Bravo to a group of Quakers in Olympia, Washington who have established a new underground railroad to get gay Ugandans out of that country to escape the brutal persecution there after the passage of a new law that includes life in prison just for being gay.
This group, based in Olympia, Wash., calls its project the Friends New Underground Railroad (FNUR) because it sees itself as following in the footsteps of the Quakers who helped bring slaves out of the American South before the Civil War. Working with fewer than 10 Ugandan “conductors,” they report having funded passage out of the country for 107 people with grants ranging from $52-$185. The refugees mostly travel in small groups on back roads and make their way to safe houses in neighboring countries. FNUR says they know of at least 12 people who have gone on to third countries like South Africa and Sweden, and they have received unconfirmed reports that around 30 have reached Europe.
The security precautions they say they take makes their work impossible to verify. The identities and locations of the conductors are kept secret even from one another. FNUR won’t identify any of the people they’ve evacuated because they say they don’t yet feel secure in their new location, though they say they financed the escape of 22 students in a Catholic seminary accused of homosexuality in the eastern town of Jinja whose case made headlines abroad. They won’t say which countries people escape to, who aids them once they exit Uganda, or how those who have gone onto Europe have secured the visas that other refugees can spend years waiting for because they fear the escape routes being shut off. One of the three co-organizers — the only one of the group with experience in international relief work — won’t be publicly identified by his real name, saying “we don’t want to put anybody in danger.” Instead he goes by Levi Coffin II, adopting the name of one of the Quakers who was a leader in the original Underground Railroad.
“We got into this because we were asked,” Coffin said in a phone interview from Washington state. The person who became Conductor Number One was a Ugandan acquaintance who asked for support when a group of LGBT people asked him to help get them out of the country. “Quakers have a long tradition of this kind of work… This is work that we were both literally and figuratively called to do.”
Now we need this on a huge scale. And it would help a lot if the Obama administration would announce that it will automatically grant refugee status to anyone who gets to an American embassy (and that goes for Russia and Nigeria as well).