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Gay Cameroonian wins asylum in Switzerland

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Gay Cameroonian wins asylum in Switzerland
File photo: Flickr/chtfj21
14:37 CET+01:00
A gay man who fled Cameroon where homosexuality is considered a crime said on Tuesday he has won a tough fight, becoming one of a handful of people to get asylum in Switzerland based on sexual orientation.

The Swiss authorities "told me to leave the country but I stayed strong," Hugues Fouatie Fotsing told AFP. He had left Cameroon on a boat from the coastal town of Doula after neighbours reported him and his partner to police in mid-2010.

Fouatie Fotsing, in his early forties, and his partner suffered beatings and insults from their neighbours and his bar was destroyed. Police rushed in and arrested his partner, who Fouatie Fotsing does not want to name.

Fouatie Fotsing managed to escape arrest, he told AFP in a telephone interview from Fribourg in western Switzerland where he has sought refuge. He described how he had fled on a fishing boat and later a cargo ship that took him to Italy.

Since his partner's arrest, he has heard "nothing at all" from him directly, although he did hear of his release in November 2010 after spending five months in Douala's New-Bell prison.

With just €320 (386 francs, $409) in his pocket, Fouatie Fotsing made the 28-day voyage to Italy and from there continued on to Switzerland, certain the country would take him in.

What he didn't know was that Switzerland between 1993 and 2007 had accepted only four out of 90 asylum requests made on the grounds of persecution linked to sexual orientation.

Proving he was in danger in Cameroon should not have been a problem, since the west African country from 2011 alone has prosecuted 14 homosexuals, Cameroon human rights lawyer Alice Nkom told AFP.

And when the issue of same-sex persecution was last raised at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva three years ago, Cameroon clearly stated it regarded homosexuality as "immoral".

While Swiss migration authorities acknowledged the risks for gays in Cameroon, they insisted it was "not credible" that Fouatie Fotsing and his partner had failed to be discreet and were known homosexuals. They rejected his application in September 2010.

Fouatie however battled on and refused to leave.

"There was proof (of my persecution)," he insisted, citing two Cameroon police arrest warrants and photographs of his ransacked office and bar.

He was thrown in administrative detention pending his expulsion from Switzerland. But after coverage in national media and a broad appeal by rights groups which presented more evidence that his homosexuality was known in Cameroon, migration authorities agreed to release him and give him a new hearing.

He was finally given refugee status late last month.

Welcoming the decision, the World Organisation Against Torture noted the "long and hard fight" necessary to get Switzerland to recognise his status and called on authorities to give more importance to future requests.

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