Gay rugby team refuses to wear pride flag until player gets asylum

A gay rugby team have vowed not to display the pride colours until a Kenyan player is granted asylum in the UK.

Kenneth Macharia, 39, has been fighting deportation for three years, arguing that he would fear for his life in Kenya, where homosexuality is punishable by up to 21 years in prison.

This week he received a letter from the Home Office stating that he has ‘no basis’ to remain in the UK and must make arrangements to leave ‘without delay’.

But his teammates at Bristol Bisons said they are not giving up hope, calling the Home Office’s decision ‘abhorrent’.

They said in a statement: ‘Our club’s existence is to support LGBT+ people and their allies to be themselves and to play the sport they love. This is the reason Ken joined our club nearly three years ago.

‘The Home Office’s decision to refuse asylum to Ken on the grounds that it is safe to be a homosexual in Kenya, despite 21 years imprisonment, reports of attacks and rapes on LGBT+ people and no legal protection against discrimination in Kenya, is completely abhorrent.

‘This week the Home Office changed its logo to include the pride flag and colours in support of pride month and yet; behind closed doors, has treated our friend like this.

‘For this reason the Bisons will not be displaying the pride colours until The Home Office either grants Ken asylum, or removes the pride colours from their logo.’

Mr Macharia, who lives in Glastonbury, Somerset, has said he would be ‘scared everywhere I went’ if deported back to Kenya.

He said: ‘I am really worried, it is a big shock for me. I was expecting positive news. I feel helpless.

‘With all the media support we have been getting I expected good news not bad. The world has been watching this, so I expected that would help.

‘I am personally calling on Home Secretary Saijd Javid as a Bristol man to intervene on my behalf and give me permission to remain in the UK.’

The mechanical engineer arrived in the UK in 2009 on a student visa, and first claimed asylum in May 2016.

He has twice been granted extensions of his leave to remain, as a student and then as a highly skilled migrant.

Gay sex is illegal in Kenya, and the law was recently upheld by the nation’s high court after campaigners sought to overturn it.

Facebook comments underneath a Kenyan news article about Mr Macharia have described him as a ‘very bad example to the society in Kenya’.

Another person wrote: ‘We don’t need more demons here.’

A decision letter sent to Mr Macharia’s solicitor by the Home Office acknowledged that gay sex in Kenya is illegal but insisted he was unlikely to come to ‘serious harm’.

The letter read: ‘Whilst same-sexual activity between men has been criminalised with a penalty of up to 21 years in prison this law is rarely applied and the objective evidence does not establish that LGBT persons are likely to be subjected to persecution or serious harm.’

Mr Macharia is required to attend Bridgewater Police Station today.

Since November, he has been required to check-in at the station monthly, having been granted bail from an immigration removal centre.

He will be accompanied by Bristol Bisons rugby Club Captain Murray Jones, Head Coach Ben Rockett and numerous supporters of the team as he goes to the station today.

Mr Macharia’s MP James Heappey told that his constituent ‘shouldn’t be needing to claim asylum in the first place’, calling the situation ‘ridiculous’.

He said: ‘Ken is a highly qualified engineer from a commonwealth country, who has been here 10 years already and is completely integrated in his community.

‘He should be a slam dunk for economic migration. But this is an asylum claim and I think it has lots of merit.

‘If the Kenyan government does not actively want to prosecute anyone for being gay, why have they turned down the opportunity to repeal those laws?

‘Regardless, whether or not Ken is going to prison is the extreme end of the scale. It is also whether or not he could get a job, or a house. Whether or not he will be mobbed in the street.’

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