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David S
My name is David S

I have been in Germany for five years and have spent my days mainly with one thing since then: waiting. I am waiting for appointments for hearings, for notices, for a work permit, for the right to live here in freedom. Waiting takes days, months, years. In dark moments I wonder what I'm doing here, if it's worth waiting for, or if I'm wasting my time.

"During the hearing, applicants shall have the opportunity to present their reasons for fleeing their country. On the basis of this presentation, the decisionmaker examines the danger to the asylum seeker on his return to the country of origin and decides whether and which protection should be granted or whether an asylum application should be rejected. The first step of the personal interview is to determine the nature and seriousness of the measures threatened in the country of origin. It shall then be examined whether the applicant was affected or is reasonably likely to be affected upon his return." [Statement by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees on a request for a hearing procedure]

In the summer of 2016, I was summoned for a hearing by the BAMF. The appointment was set for 9:00 in the morning. I got up at 6:00 to be on time. The whole time I felt hot and I was sweating. The conversation was terrible. I told my whole story - from the beginning and without omitting anything. Do you know how hard it is to tell a stranger your most personal experiences? And then they ask you questions as if you are a liar. That's when I got angry. I lost control and I didn't want to share anything further. I'm not hiding my identity anymore, it's enough! I then told it all to my lawyer, who got me a second hearing on the grounds that the first hearing had not been done correctly.

I had to wait a whole year for the second appointment. Then, in August 2017, I had to go to the BAMF again. Tell my whole story again, endure all questions again and let the doubting glances of the decisionmaker pass over me. I was better prepared this time, even had a plea from the Munich-based SUB association with me. This time there were two women sitting in the room, a decisionmaker and a translator. How can a woman know what it's like to be gay? I wasn't nervous this time. Why should I have been? I'm not a criminal. So, I told my story again - for almost four hours. The questions they asked me were the same as the first time. When I was done, I had the feeling they didn't believe me again. I could tell from the way they were questioning me, like they had not been listening.

Four weeks after the second hearing, the decision was made. I knew before I opened the letter what it would say:

"The conditions for granting refugee status and for being recognized as an asylum seeker are not met." [ September 7, 2017. He wrote "why" on the side, in pencil, so he could erase it at any time]

My father died in the civil war; my mother gave me to an uncle to be raised. Early on, when I was 12 or 13, I noticed that I was different, but I couldn't place the feeling. Outside Sierra Leone's capital Freetown there is a forest. That's where gay men meet to have sex. I had heard about it and when I got older, I went there regularly. Nobody usually passed by there but once, when I was 16, someone must have been watching us and called the police. They put me in prison and then took me to court, where I was able to escape through a toilet window. I couldn't go back to my uncle, I roamed the city and slept in empty houses. In order to earn money, I washed dishes at a snack bar, from time to time I slept with street boys. Then I got out of there.

"He has not able to provide justified grounds for his fear of persecution. The applicant's presentation of facts does not satisfy the criteria listed for persecution. The applicant's information on the events triggering the escape remained poor in detail, vague and superficial. Overall, his remarks are contradictory and incomprehensible." [notification dated September 7, 2017]

I made my way to Egypt, 7,000 kilometers away. I paid for boats to take me to Turkey. I stayed there for a year and a half, hired myself out without a work permit in a textile factory and hated life there. Only rarely did I dare to go to one of the few public meeting places for gays. Once someone wanted to take me home with him, but stopped on the way in a dark alley, pulled a knife on me and robbed me of everything I had in my pockets. I fled again, to Greece and there I got on a train to take me away.

"The fact that the applicant was neither excluded from society nor threatened or persecuted because of his homosexuality in his home country is evident from his own statements. [notification dated September 7, 2017]

I arrived in Munich in the summer of 2015. I didn't know how gays were dealt with in Germany, whether they were accepted or not. So, at first, I hid who I was and that I was gay. I spent the first eight months in the Bayern Kaserne. I was with refugees from many countries including Sierra Leone. Many of them come from countries where gays are persecuted. Once, at the food counter, someone came up to me and said, "I never see you with a girl. Are you gay?" It sounded hostile and it frightened me, so I made a request to be moved to another accommodation and came to Ingolstadt.

It wasn't much better there either, because I had to share the accommodation with many refugees from Arab countries. I learned German for three years, even went to school for it, did everything the authorities wanted me to do. At the moment I am working three times a week as a kitchen assistant at an inn in Vaterstetten. Actually, I want to start an apprenticeship as a cook and my boss has been offering me an employment contract for a while. However, I can't do that without the consent of the district administrator and this, in turn, would require the BAMF to recognize me as a refugee. Although that's just one small issue out of many: I'm not poor, I don't want your money, I want you to help protect my life: Gay people have to be protected, not rejected!

"The fact that homosexual acts are punishable does not, in itself, constitute an act of persecution. [...] Taking into account the circumstances in the country of origin it is not very likely to be persecuted even on return." [notification dated September 7, 2017]

My uncle is a devout Muslim, like most people in Sierra Leone. The country´s president states that homosexuals are free. However, if I were seen on the street with a man, they would either arrest me, or do worse. Even if the authorities in Germany do not want to believe it: Coming out is not possible in Sierra Leone - you are rejected by your family, ostracized by society and hunted by extremists.

"Truth-seeking by the authority must also always be within the limits of the human dignity of the refugee: therefore, psychological expert opinions, medical tests, intimate photos or videos or explicit descriptions of sexual practices, for example, must not be demanded. [Statement by the Federal Office in response to a request for a hearing procedure]

I met my boyfriend here and enjoy walking through the streets holding hands and kissing him whenever I want. He's also from Sierra Leone and left the country for the same reason I did. In the summer I went to Christopher Street Day and danced and celebrated with many friends out on the street. Whenever there's a Gay Pride event, I'm there. How is someone supposed to pretend to be something he's not for four years? I really don't know what the BAMF wants from me. Do you expect me to have sex with my boyfriend in front of you, no problem. But I can't do that either. How am I supposed to prove I'm gay? Homosexuality isn’t something to be determined by simply looking at me, it's in my head, in my veins, in my heart. I've found la lawyer to challenge the verdict, but I haven't heard anything since. I have no choice but to keep waiting.

If I could make a wish, it would be for two simple things: To live the life I love with my partner and for the waiting to come to an end.

Text: Dominik Wolf
Photos: Lorraine Hellwig