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Ugandan woman branded by iron over sexuality faces deportation from UK

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Asylum claim of Ugandan lesbian attacked by three men in her home country has been refused by UK immigration authority

Yarl's Wood, where Ugandan Betty Tibikawa is being held and faces deportation back to her home country where she fears for her life after being branded with an iron for her sexuality. Photograph: Dan Chung for the Guardian

A Ugandan woman who was branded with a hot iron in her home country as a punishment for her sexuality, is facing forced removal from the UK.

Last week, the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, said that the coalition had ended the practice of deporting people to countries where they face persecution because of their sexual orientation.

But Betty Tibikawa, 22, who is detained in Yarl's Wood immigration removal centre in Bedford, is awaiting removal directions after her asylum claim was refused.

Human rights organisations have consistently documented abuses against gay men and lesbians in Uganda and say that it's one of the most dangerous countries in the world for gay people.

Tibikawa had just finished high school and was due to go to university in Kampala when she was attacked by three men who taunted her about her sexuality. They pinned her down in a disused building and branded her on her inner thighs with a hot iron. They left her unconscious and when she finally managed to get home she was confined to bed for two months. An independent medical report has confirmed that her scars are consistent with being branded with a hot iron.

"I can't sleep and I'm having terrible nightmares about what will happen to me if I'm sent back to Uganda. My family have disowned me because I'm a lesbian and I'm convinced I'd be killed if I'm sent home.

"I was 'outed' in a Ugandan magazine called Red Pepper in February of this year saying that I'm wanted for being a lesbian," she said. "This has put my life at increased risk."

Another Ugandan lesbian, BN, was due to be removed from the UK in January but her removal was halted following intervention by her lawyers. Her case is due to be heard in the court of appeal in July.

David Kato, a gay Ugandan activist, was murdered earlier this year. Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda. An anti-homosexuality bill calling for more punitive measures against gay people was due to be voted on by the Ugandan parliament last week but was not discussed. It could be brought before parliament again later in the year.

Emma Ginn, co-ordinator of Medical Justice, said: "Despite compelling medical evidence, the UK Border Agency disbelieves Ms Tibikawa's story. UKBA do not dispute that Ms Tibikawa has scars caused by a hot flat iron, but conclude that she did not suffer any ill-treatment in Uganda. We condemn the fact that they intend to deport Ms Tibakawa to a country where being gay is illegal and puts your life at risk."

Human Rights Watch spokeswoman Gauri van Gulik said: "Our research has shown that many cases of women like Betty are not taken seriously by the UK Border Agency. Unfortunately women who suffer this kind of violence have serious difficulty claiming asylum."

A UK Border Agency spokesperson said: "The government has made it clear that it is committed to stopping the removal of asylum seekers who have genuinely had to leave particular countries because of their sexual orientation or gender identification.

"However, when someone is found not to have a genuine claim we expect them to leave voluntarily."

A 34-year-old gay man from Uganda was due to be removed from the UK on 17 May. UKBA did not confirm whether or not the removal went ahead.

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