A gay rugby player fighting deportation to Kenya has called on Home Secretary Sajid Javid to end his three-year-long ordeal in “limbo” by deciding his asylum case.
Ken Macharia has lived since May 2016 in fear of being sent back to the nation where homosexual activity is illegal and can be punished with heavy jail sentences.
The mechanical engineer, who is on bail from an immigration removal centre, has been barred from working for almost a year while living in what he calls a “hostile environment” for asylum seekers.
Mr Macharia, a 39-year-old who plays for the LGBTQ inclusive Bristol Bisons RFC, is demanding that the Home Office rules on his asylum claim, as he copes with depression and anxiety.
“Before I started this process I was thinking the UK is a champion of human rights,” he told the Press Association.
“But I was surprised by the treatment I received. It was extremely hostile. They do everything they can to make it really difficult to apply for asylum.
“He (Mr Javid) needs to sort things out and really show the UK does live up to what it claims to be as a country that protects human rights.
“He took over after the Windrush scandal and the Windrush scandal was because of the way the Home Office treated people badly, but it treats very many people badly and it has not changed since he took over. It has been business as usual.”
Mr Macharia fears mob violence or blackmail in the East African nation where the Foreign Office warns gay British travellers that holding hands or kissing in public could lead to imprisonment.
But the Government refuses asylum to the vast majority of Kenyans making claims on the basis of sexual orientation.
Lawyers and campaigners blamed a “culture of disbelief” among Home Office caseworkers, who they say set an excessively high bar for asylum seekers to prove their cases.
The Home Office defended its “proud record” of giving asylum to those fleeing persecution because of their sexuality, with all such cases being reviewed by a specialist or senior caseworker.
A petition to end the rugby player’s deportation has won more than 100,000 signatures, including Stephen Fry’s.
Following a campaign from Mr Macharia’s teammates, he was released on bail on November 28 from a removal centre near Heathrow Airport where he was detained for nearly two weeks.
He was warned by the judge that his freedom in Britain could be temporary, with the decision in the hands of the Home Office, and he must report to police monthly.
Mr Macharia, who moved to the UK a decade ago to study a masters at UWE Bristol, said he has been unable to work since last summer when his permission was revoked.
He was prescribed antidepressants and has been forced to rely on his 70-year-old mother Jacinta working extra hours as a nurse to support him while he lives in Glastonbury, Somerset.
“I am living in limbo. It’s like death by a thousand cuts,” he said.
“I believe it’s part of the hostile environment, making people’s lives difficult by making them financially stressed.”
He said he fears the delay is to push him to give up the process, which saw his asylum refused in December 2016.
Mr Macharia said he first had to convince officials of his sexuality with a wealth of evidence before trying to prove the danger he faces as a gay man in Kenya.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said asylum delays are “a failure of this Government”.
“The Tories’ hostile environment is causing real distress to applicants, leaving them in limbo with no certainty of their future. These unfair policies must end,” the Labour MP said.
Without commenting directly on Mr Macharia’s case, a Home Office spokeswoman said: “This Government has a proud record of providing protection for asylum seekers fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“All available evidence is carefully and sensitively considered by in light of published country information.
“All decisions on claims based on sexual orientation are reviewed by a second experienced caseworker.”