Gay Ethiopian faces uncertainty, peril if deported

Published: March 12, 2014

 Federal immigration officials in Boston are seeking to deport a man — who has posted online that he is gay — to a nation where same-sex relationships are illegal, just days after President Obama criticized a harsh new antigay law in Uganda. 

 
Officials arrested the 19-year-old man from Ethiopia in January, shortly after he lost his student visa, and brought him before an immigration judge twice last month for deportation. It is unclear if his judge or jailers know that the man has posted to a public forum that he is gay. He also told at least two people who confirmed it to the Globe, saying they fear for his safety if he is deported.
 
“This is a very serious deal,” said the student’s uncle, who spoke on condition of anonymity from Canada. “Back in his country, it will be like death.”
 
Advocates for immigrants said the case illustrates the perils of the US immigration system, where immigrants are not assigned public defenders and are often forced to defend themselves in court. Federal officials say immigration officers ask detainees if they are afraid to go home, which could clear the way for them to apply for asylum, but lawyers say many foreigners are reluctant to confide in their jailers.
 
 Ethiopia is among dozens of nations — 77 at last count — where it is a crime to be gay or lesbian, according to the United Nations. Almost half the nations that outlaw same-sex relationships are in Africa, where Amnesty International says penalties include prison time or even death.
 
In February, Uganda imposed up to life in prison for same-sex conduct, drawing rebuke from President Obama, who called the law “an affront and a danger to the gay community.” Weeks earlier, Nigeria also toughened its antigay laws. Afterward, according to media reports, a mob in Nigeria’s capital attacked men perceived as gay, and on Thursday an Islamic court in the north had four men publicly whipped for being gay.
 
In Ethiopia, according to the State Department, gay people have been jailed, interrogated, and allegedly abused, and many reported anxiety, depression, and suicide attempts. Amnesty International said gay people face up to 15 years in prison in that country for aggravated offenses.
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