This week, black Britons are celebrating the release of Black Panther, but beyond “reel” life, there is a real cause for celebration: Kelechi Chioba has been granted asylum in the UK
An openly queer, disabled, wheelchair-user of Nigerian descent, Kelechi came to the UK in 2011 as she feared for her life in Nigeria. Chioba and the #SaveKelechi Campaign made up of her friends, supporters and activists, have been fighting for asylum since 2015, when she was told she would have to leave the country.
Growing up with Polio, and experiencing poor mental health meant that Kelechi was labelled as cursed, abused by her family, and sexually assaulted by co-workers. She came to the UK as a student and found that she was able to live as her true, authentic, self; a bisexual woman who has dedicated herself to fighting for the freedom and liberation of others.
When Kelechi was told she would have to return to Nigeria, as a prominent, queer, activist, she knew she was at risk of violence and her life was in danger.
“When I was thinking about my sexuality, and I was thinking about the abuse, and I was thinking about being open, as an activist about my sexuality: I was scared”
After receiving the news, Kelechi, who was overjoyed and relieved, said: “When I was thinking about my sexuality, and I was thinking about the abuse, and I was thinking about being open, as an activist about my sexuality: I was scared”.
A hangover from colonial rule, anti-gay laws in Nigeria can lead to punishments including 14 years in prison, and death by stoning. The Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which enforces this, carries penalties for all organisations and individuals that support the LGBTQI+ community.
Her lawyer, Jamie Bell, said: “I am delighted that after many years of fighting, Kelechi Chioba has been granted asylum in the United Kingdom. We were referred this case when Kelechi was at her lowest ebb, facing detention and removal. I am delighted to have played a part in a great transformation and ensuring that justice prevailed. I look forward to Kelechi continuing to inspire others through her stories of struggle, perseverance and ultimately triumph”
Her lawyers fought for her, and supported her, through some of the scariest moments of her life, and their expertise and passion provided a lifeline during the stress of the asylum application process.
The stress Chioba has been under, is evident in her rapidly deteriorating physical and mental health – and has only been amplified by the anti-migrant rhetoric pushed by Brexiteers, xenophobic fear-mongering in the press and echoed across the nation.
We have an urgent responsibility, to ensure that those in similar situations as Kelechi are given the help and support they need and no one else is made to suffer through this vicious system. As Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff wrote for gal-dem in 2015, “cases like Kelechi’s are not unique; she embodies the experience of thousands of asylum seekers in the UK who have had their claims rejected, are waiting, or appealing rejections”.
We must continue to advocate for those fleeing oppression and discrimination, wherever they come from, to be given the same rights, opportunities and quality of life as any citizen of the UK, in the UK.
“At a time when we applaud our representation with the Black Panther movie, let us not forget their namesake, the Black Panther Party and everything those revolutionaries stood for”
Kelechi is fortunate to have had support during this harrowing process, but not everyone is as lucky. At a time when we applaud our representation with the Black Panther movie, let us not forget their namesake, the Black Panther Party and everything those revolutionaries stood for. For freedom from oppression, and the importance of continuing the fight, even when faced with struggle.
Whilst there are still challenges ahead, this victory, shows us the importance of sustained solidarity, not just for Kelechi, but for all those fleeing oppression, and gives us hope that if we fight, we can make a difference.
The fight for Kelechi isn’t yet over. Her health is poor, and she faces surgery in the upcoming month. With the impending loss of her home office accommodation and some of the monetary support she has received, fundraising for her living costs is now of urgent necessity.
To end on a note from Kelechi: “You will not understand the concept of freedom until you have experienced persecution”.
Please visit Kelechi’s fundraising page and give generously.