Two Ugandan men living in Sweden, who claim they are the first gay couple from their country to get married, may be separated once again after a lucky reunion following a decision by the Swedish Migration Board.
Lawrence Kaala and Jimmy Sserwadda were married last week at a small church in Järfälla, a suburb north of the Swedish capital, Stockholm.
It was fortuitous that the pair were even in the same country, as they had fled Uganda separately after facing persecution for their sexuality.
Mr Sserwadda left in 2008 after being arrested and beaten for “promoting homosexuality”. He left behind his long term partner, Mr Kaala, as “he would have insisted on coming with and that would have put our lives at risk.”
Mr Sserwadda was then granted asylum in Sweden and became active in the local LGBT community as a member of the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (RFSL), through which he helped other LGBT asylum seekers with their claims.
RFSL ran published a story about the Swedish Migration Board and how getting a successful asylum claim could be a lottery in a 2011 edition of their magazine, Kom Ut (Come Out). The story ran with a prominent photograph of Mr Sserwadda.
By chance, Mr Kaala had also been forced to seek asylum in Sweden. When he saw a copy of Kom Ut bearing Mr Sserwadda’s likeness he got in touch.
“I was shocked. I thought it was a joke,” Mr Sserwadda says of the call he received from Mr Kaala.
“When we finally met in person, Lawrence said, ‘Yes, darling it’s me!’ As we hugged he then asked me why I had left.”
Mr Kaala forgave Mr Sserwadda for leaving, having “never stopped loving” him. The couple quickly rekindled the relationship that had been broken up three years earlier. As equal marriage is legal in Sweden, they were able to fulfill a wish to get married which they had first spoken of in Uganda.
Mr Sserwadda said: “If we could have gotten married in Uganda if we would have and when we found each other again here in Sweden it felt natural to go ahead with it.”
However, the marriage cannot guarantee that the two will be able to remain together. Mr Kaala learnt days before the ceremony that his asylum application had been denied despite having made a similar claim to Mr Sserwadda, and having scars from beatings he received for being gay in Uganda to prove it.
“A lot of the rejections are strange. It’s as if they have no concept of what LGBT asylum seekers face back home,” Ulrika Westerlund of RFSL told Swedish paper The Local.
Mr Kaala could return to Uganda to file a residency claim on the grounds that he is married to a man with permanent leave to remain in Sweden, but doing so after being openly married to another man would likely be a death sentence.
Instead, the couple are pinning their hopes on appealing the decision, which they must do before February 11th to avoid deportation.
“We haven’t had time for a honeymoon. We’ve been working around the clock since the wedding to get things in order,” said Mr Sserwadda.
LGBT people in Uganda are at a particularly high risk of danger as the country had planned to pass a severely anti-gay bill, commonly known as the “kill the gays” bill, in December last year. The motion was delayed and the future of the bill remains unclear.