About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of refugee Sumayya smiling


Pictures taken in:



Photo and interview by:

United Kingdom



Nour MF Jarrouj

“I left my country because I was scared of persecution,” says Sumayya (23), an asylum seeker in London. “They expelled me in many schools because of my sexuality. And I felt at that point like my life started being at risk, because LGBT people are not accepted in Uganda.” Once, her girlfriend’s mother reported them to the police; later her own mother disowned her. She had a lot of suicidal thoughts. “I felt like I couldn’t live in the world because I was ashamed of myself. I was asking myself, why am I gay? Why in the world God chose me to be this?” says Sumayya, who is Muslim. But her sister’s love helped. “When I started praying and I saw nothing changed, I started accepting myself and my sister said, listen, that’s what you are. You’re not going to change who you are because of what people think for you.” Today Sumayya wants to be a human rights lawyer for the LGBT community. “My dream is to inspire a lot of gay people in Uganda,” she says. “To show them that it’s okay to be gay.”

Trigger Warning: Suicidal thoughts; homophobia

full interview

Cool, what date you arrived in Europe, what month?
It was September, I think. September 2015.

Sept 2015, amazing. And refugee status, you’re still asylum seeker.

Reason is sexuality.

Is there any other reasons or just?

Okay, and you’re 23?

Okay, gender. Do you identify as female or male or non-binary?

Okay, job status, unemployed. Is there anything that you want us to identify you other than Ugandan gay female? Do you want to say like you have disabilities? Are you a mom? Are you pregnant or are you religious?

Okay, amazing, let me save this. Sumayya story, I’m just saving you. Cool, amazing. Let’s start by you telling me where are you living? Um, like what type of house are you living? And can you describe it? How many rooms? Who are you living with and how do you spend your your time?
Okay. I live in Southall, in Home Office accommodation. I actually I don’t know how many rooms are, because upstairs is men, and then downstairs women, I don’t know how many women to be honest. Yeah. I spend my days sometimes, sometimes with my friends, sometimes on my phone watching different YouTubers. Yeah.

So you told me you had a friend over. Is it allowed, like for her to come on and visit you in the Home Office?

Oh okay, cool. So they don’t like tell you like, oh, you must not bring anyone to your room?
No, they don’t. I bring anyone I want to, to bring in my room.

Yes, okay. And how is the condition of the house?
Well, at first I really had a small house, it was small and annoying. Now, now it’s actually it’s not a very, very big room, but it’s better than the one I was sleeping in. Yeah.

Why is that?
Well, when I moved in they gave me a very small room, because they say that I never had a child, I was alone, I was single. So they gave me a very small room like you can’t even imagine to be honest. And then after I complained and I say I’ve lived here for almost four years now and the room is too, is too small for me, I don’t have space to put my stuff. And then when someone moved in, that’s how I called the manager and then they were like, no, we don’t change anybody. And I said, first of all, my room is so small and that’s how I got the big room, yeah.

Okay, great. And who do you live with? Do you live with like friends or?
I live on my own.

No, I mean, in the accommodation.
Oh, yeah, I live with different women. They’re not friends, but they’re just different women.

Okay, okay. And how do you spend your time? Not now, in COVID times, like usually?
Yeah. I’ll be talking on my phone, just walking around watching different stuff on YouTube.

And you don’t, you didn’t go out or?
I was going out before COVID, I was going out, I was going to bike project, I was going to, where else? I was going clubbing, I used to go in GAY, go in Out and Proud. Yeah, that’s how I live my day, like before COVID.

Yeah. And what are some of the things that bring you joy?
Well, um. I don’t know what because I feel like everything makes, make me happy like everything that, everything makes me happy to be honest. I don’t know, I can say this, but I think going to a club, going clubbing with friends, yeah, I love that. And going parties, dancing sometimes, though I don’t know how to dance but I try. Sometimes I keep lying to myself that I know how to sing.

So you like singing, dancing and going out with your friends?

These are things that bring you joy, cool.

And how how life has been treating you since you arrived in 2015? What was good? What was bad throughout this five years?
Well, um. Well, I say the only good thing was just because I got my friends, but on the other hand, life wasn’t really that easy, regarding to my sexuality about the way how I was judged with in my family and, you know, I lost some friends, you know, in that yeah, in that time, and life wasn’t really easy to be honest, I’m not going to lie. And I tried my best just to make life better, yeah, for myself because like if I look back, I was like, if I look back about everything that has been going on in my life, am I going to live my life? So I had to put everything behind and focus on me and my sexuality, because that’s what I like more actually.

You, you want to focus on yourself and your well-being.

So this has been really hard, like family rejecting you, friends rejecting you since you came to the UK, okay.

And what has been good?
I met new people, you know, I made new friends and then, you know, I was I mean, I was introduced to new things like at first I didn’t know, to be honest before I even came here, I, I thought I was abnormal. I didn’t know that there were a lot of gay people that existed. Uh yeah, I got, I was introduced to many things and I found, I found new, I mean, gay people. I had, I joined Pride, you know, because I didn’t even know Pride exist before I came, I didn’t know. I didn’t know there was a day for for gay people to celebrate. Yeah, so those things gave me joy. Yeah at least I managed to meet people who think like me, who act like me. Yeah.

Oh that’s great.
And it made me believe that I’m not the only gay person and I’m not sinning.

That’s great, of course you’re not alone. Umm, how how do you feel living in the UK?
I don’t really feel that special. No, I don’t feel that safe because even in the UK, we’ve managed to make people who are homophobic. So I don’t say that I’ve lived a better life in the UK as well like compared so much to Uganda.

Yeah, because there are some things that I’ve gone through in the UK that I feel like I don’t want to share now, but maybe I’ll share in future.

Is that about homophobia or racism?
A lot, yeah.
They don’t prison here for being gay, but the way they treat you is, I think, the way they treat some of people, it is like going to jail is the, is the best to be honest, because I would prefer someone to prison me than someone treating you with this, you know, silent treatment is always. But, you know what I mean.

So I think, yeah, it’s not actually been easy but I’ve gone through a lot of things, a lot that I can’t sit there and be like, oh, I can’t, I don’t want to talk about them. Yeah, I just choose to say okay, I’m going to forget about everything that happened, despite the fact that it’s not easy to forget, I had to put everything behind and focus on me because I know myself. I was a strong person.

And how does being away from your family back home make you feel?
Well, my family’s here.

Oh, okay. So they’re all here and do they know you’re gay?
Yes, they know.

Okay and they’re okay with it?
No, they’re not. But they chose not to talk about it now.

What do they mean, like what do they mean that?
Yeah, at first they were reacting and then they were tripping, mostly my mom was tripping, I’m not going to lie. But then, like she said, I’m not your mother anymore, I don’t want to speak to you, I don’t want you to ever like, I don’t know, she said too much. (Laughing)

She said, she was tripping. She said, even even when I die. I mean, she was telling my uncle when she died I shouldn’t take anything from her. Like at first she was tripping, she said too much but I said, well, I don’t care, like I went two months, two or three months without talking to her like she threw me out of her house one day. I mean, that was 2016—something like that, I think 2017, she threw me out of her house and I slept outside.

Oh my god.
She weren’t even giving a fuck about that. She said, I can’t I never I can’t raise a gay child.

She can’t raise a gay child?
Yeah, but she didn’t raise me. So I was like, okay cool.

And do you have like how do you feel? What does that make you feel when your own mother is discriminating against you?
It made me feel bad, but in the end of the day, I said, fuck it, I need to live my life. Yeah, because the best thing here was my sister accepted me. She loved me for who I was. And then when I said, I have my sister, I have everyone. So everyone they can judge me as long as I have my sister, I don’t give a fuck, so.

That’s great. Um, and could you ever imagine yourself, like, surviving everything that you’ve been through?
I have to be honest, because if I never, I could have been dead by now, because I had a lot of suicidal thoughts those days. I felt like uh I wasn’t, I mean, I felt like I couldn’t live in the world because I was ashamed of myself, first of all. I was asking myself, why am I gay? Why in the world God chose me to be this? Because they used to say that, oh, I think she’s gay because she learned it—in school, like people brought in different situations, I mean, different stories. They said, oh, I think she was broken, she was, I mean, men I think men broke her heart, like they said too much. And then I sat down myself and I’m like God, why in everything, why am I gay? Why did you choose me to be gay? Because I worshipped you, I’ve done everything but you still chose me in all people, well, you choose me. And then when I, when I started praying and I saw nothing changed, I started accepting myself and my sister said, listen, that’s what you are. You’re not going to change who you are because of what people think for you. So I said, okay that’s fine, I like women, so I don’t care now.

I like your sister, she thinks wisely.
I like her, me too. I like her.

Okay, do you think that this ability of you like being able to deal with those challenges is a new ability or you always had that strength inside you?
What I think is, I think I always had in me, because I knew, because when I was back in school and they used to read, they used to teach us about being LGBT and how bad it was. So I knew everything is going to come my way, but I didn’t know how to get over it. I didn’t know how I was asking myself. But whenever I was praying, I said God whatever step that you take in my life, I will accept it, because at this point I don’t have to hide and I don’t have to, I have to be who I want to be, so.

You keep on saying, God, God,
So I prayed for it, hmm?

Sorry, continue.
And then everything that came my way, I think I prayed for it and expected it, so.

Oh, good. So you kind of had that strength and resilience already. You were expecting that to happen.

And I want to ask you, you keep saying you ask God, you ask God. Are you religious? Do you believe in God?

So you, do you like do you practice? Are you, are you a Muslim? Are you a Christian? Are you…
Yeah, I’m a Muslim, but, you know, I think it’s been since last, since last year, that’s when I stopped practicing, I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I don’t know what came over me. Then sometimes I pray. Sometimes I really do pray. Sometimes I’ll just be on my bed and pray. I think the main reason why I stopped praying, you know, my room was, well as I said before, my room was so small and I couldn’t put that thing down to pray down, because my room was everywhere, had things, stuff.

Yeah, okay. Umm, how did COVID affect you, um affect your activities, affect your mood, your well-being, your mental health? How did it affect you?
Yeah, well, COVID, well the fact that I had COVID the first time I think it was on March? Yeah, I was really ill for like, it took me like 16, 16 days, something like that, I think three weeks. Yeah. So I was really, really sick and I couldn’t really, I couldn’t move. I couldn’t walk like and, you know, in that in that time of period of COVID, I was battling depression, you know. And then when COVID came, it added the depression I was having. So it mixed together and then. Yeah, I was, I can’t even tell what really…how it affected me, because it formed early with my depression and then it added on that depression I had. Yeah.

And how about activities? What were you doing?
Before COVID or in COVID?

Before, like you said before COVID, you used to go out with your friends, go to the bike project. In COVID, what?
I wasn’t doing anything, I was just joining Zoom meetings, that’s all I did because, yeah, we had one of them, we had one of my friends, she was, she was hosting us in Zoom meetings. So we talked about LGBT stuff and everything like that, so I used to join the meeting and then we’d talk and then I joined another, like I went joining like many talking to people I didn’t know, you know, people I don’t know if I would ever meet in this world. So, yeah, it made me make new friends that I didn’t know I could make, talk to people that I didn’t I could talk to. Yeah, because everyone was home and everyone was bored. So even people who are so busy, they could talk to you, you don’t even expect them to talk to you, but you just send a message and then they talking to you. So, yeah, it made me, I found out, like when I heard about different people’s situations, I knew, like, I’m not the only person that’s going through all this, because those Zoom meetings made me really so strong, because I had a lot of stories. People talked about themselves in, people had sad stories. Yeah.

So listening to these people’s stories.
And then I joined one of them, I joined one um, I had an app for Taimi is it Taimi? Something like that. I think it’s called Taimi so I met a lot of gay people. (Laughing)

That’s great. It’s a dating app, is it?
Yeah, it is.

And, why did you leave your country? Can you describe what happened?
Well, I left my country because I was scared, you know, of persecution. And people are really talking so bad about LGBT. And on the other hand, I used to be they um they expelled me in many schools because of my sexuality. And I felt at that point like my life started being at risk because the fact that LGBT people are not accepted in Uganda and they are just in different schools. So that was a problem that if many schools I mean, if many people knew that I was gay, I think I was going to get in trouble and when, how. But then um even my girlfriend’s mom, actually, one time she called police on us.

Oh, my God. How old were you then?
I think I was 15.

So you knew you were gay and a very young age?
Yeah, because actually I liked girls when I was really young, but I knew I was gay, I think I was around 14 because the teachers that at 14 to 15, no 14 to 13, because the teachers started teaching us about gay when I joined secondary school. They started talking about lesbians and gay people, how we are illuminate, things like that. So you know they used to say that I used to get money from white people to spread lesbianism in school.

Your principal said that you used to get money from white people to spread lesbianism in your school?

Talk about conspiracy theory. Oh, man. And…
That’s how they used to say, they used to say no, she doesn’t fit to be in school because she’s a she’s a bad influence to the, to the students. She’s being paid a lot of money to come and teach our kids how to do lesbianism and how they say too much.
You know, one time my teacher, one time my head teacher said, oh yeah, one time she came in school and she had five hundred thousand, you one five hundred thousand is a lot in my country. I think it’s around £120 and that’s a lot. So she said, he said, oh, she had a lot of money in her, I mean, in her socks. And he said, I was illuminate. You know what I told him, I told him I think you must be illuminati as well. How did you count the money that was in my socks? You know?

So he put, he put money in your socks deliberately?
No, I had that money in my socks, yes. But how did he know it was 50,000? I mean, five hundred five hundred thousand. How did he know it was five hundred thousand?

How did he know?
That’s what I’m saying I don’t know how he knew. Because he say that, oh she had a lot of money then, I mean, white people support her with that money. She come and she spreads lesbianiasm in the school.

Oh god.
She had—and then my mom said, ‘Come on now, how did he count it?’ And I said let him—okay, say something but then make it make sense, like explain it. How it’s supposed to…like how did you find that money, like it was five hundred thousand yet it was in my socks? So that means you illuminate as well for you looking in my socks, counting the money without looking at them.

So that’s what he said and then he said she cannot be in this school anymore. I said that’s fine.

Yeah, and how did that make you feel? Like, how did all of these things and like these accusations from people around you make you feel?
It made me feel bad, bad. I never had anything, I mean I never had any choice. I never had choice, any choice because first of all, the only better thing they did for me was to chase me their school was to ask me to leave because if they took me to police, then that would have been another case. So I was saying, okay, like I wasn’t trying to argue with anybody because I knew I was wrong. So I just said, okay, that’s fine.

You weren’t wrong, but you were under threat. You were either to be kicked out of school or go to police so of course, you’re going to be like okay.
Yeah.Me being gay here is not wrong, but it I could have been wrong when I’m back home, you know what I mean, because for them they feel its wrong, you know. Yeah. So there, at that point, I was doing something wrong to them. That’s how they saw it, yeah.

And how did you come to Europe?
Well, I came with two people to Europe.

No, I mean, like in a plane? In a boat?
Yeah, in a plane.

Oh in a plane. And did you like have like a work visa? Student visa?
No, I had none.

You just came in a plane? You got smuggled in a plane?

Oh, okay I was joking. I didn’t know it was existed. (Both laugh) It existed, okay cool. And yeah, was it like uh very scary because, like, you couldn’t…
It was, it was because it wasn’t actually that nice, but as I told you before when I was starting, that there are some things I don’t want to speak about because yeah it all involves that, that that I don’t speak about it because it keeps on bringing back a memory that I don’t…you know what I mean?

I understand, I understand. And, I know that you said that these events already that happened in your past keep coming back to you.

So, how do you like cope with it? What is your coping mechanism in order to get through these memories?
I got to because, you know, sometimes I, I be… Sometimes I make sure, like, you know, I used to smoke. So sometimes I could smoke, just try to forget about everything. But, you know, even if you smoke, sometimes when you sleep, you wake up, you still remember the things you’re thinking about. But then sometimes I used to smoke, sometimes I used to, I used to smoke weed and then, yeah, drink sometimes and then sleep. And sometimes I would wake up when I’ve, I don’t forget, but sometimes I try to overcome some of them.

But now you don’t do these things. So what’s your coping mechanism? The healthy coping mechanism.
Oh my God. I think sometimes I be, I call my friends, if I feel like I’m down, I’ll be calling my friends to talk about them. I mean, to talk about something else. And then, yeah, it keeps me forgetting everything.

Yeah, cool so you have your support system. And like, I know that you said it, because it keeps occurring like, does it like uh does it affect your mental well-being, all of these things you have been through in the past? Like do you have like depression, anxiety, PTSD?
Yeah, they do because sometimes I was seeing the therapist I used to talk with her. And now, I still talk to them, but not all the time now because sometimes I feel like I don’t want to speak to anybody and sometimes I’d be laughing, doing anything, but then sometimes I’m so rude.

I don’t want to speak to anybody, I just want to be on my own.

So, sometimes it was so hard for me. Like those days, it was so hard for even my, my therapist to handle me because sometimes I would get mad about everything, get mad, at all of them, start shouting for no reason. So yeah, there’s a time when my behavior get out of control.

But I think it’s all part of you dealing with the trauma that you have handled and you just need time to heal from it. But do you like, do you think therapy helped you in a way?
Yeah, I did.

Umm, before everything that happened that make you flee your home, it wasn’t like I know you said, like all of these threatening from the people, the threatening of the, the schools. So these things, recurring things, made you leave Uganda, right?

So, before that, what was your dream. What was Sumayya’s dream?
Before that, you know, I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer for human rights.

Amazing, yeah.
Yeah. I always wanted to be a lawyer for human rights and specifically for gay people, actually. That’s what I’ve always have wanted and that’s what I still want, up to now it hasn’t changed, yeah.

Amazing, amazing. Can you say my dream was, umm, to be a lawyer, a human rights lawyer and defend LGBT people?
Okay, my right, my – okay, my dream – is it my dream? My dream was to be a lawyer of human rights and support LGBT people.

Amazing. And when you left, when you left Uganda, what was your dream?
It was still my dream and is still my dream.

It was still your dream, you’re very consistent.

And, what was your strength, strong point in Uganda? What was your strong point, how would you describe your strength?
My strength… Well, my strength was… My girlfriend, first of all, yes, and I had two kids. Actually, they are not my kids, but I was taking care of those kids, so I was like, me and my girlfriend, we are like parents in the middle of these kids, despite the fact that we’re young, but we still had to help where we could. Yes.

Okay, and have you maintained this strength?
Yeah, that’s right. Sometimes I never think about suicidal thoughts. I still think about all those people in my life. Yeah.

Okay, so you still have them here, in your head?
Well, me and my – actually, I almost said my girlfriend – my ex, because we broke up, but yeah we talk like friends because, yeah, she just texts me sometimes, I text her back, and so…

You’ve been through a lot of difficult stuff. Do you feel like you have grown, you have been growing in a way? Of all of these experience or anything positive?
Yeah. Yeah, I think I’ve grown. Because, you know, it takes a lot for someone to be friends with their ex, (laughing) but I did. So that’s how I know I’m proud of myself because, you know, I never, and I am a personal experiences, I love people who want to try their life out there. Only if you don’t lie to me. So the, the time I realized myself that I’ve grown was me accepting to still talk to my ex no matter what I went, what she made me go through. Yet, I was going through depression. And yet, me and her have really had a very hard time in school, everywhere. And she threw away all those years for just something that she’s not even going to be with for the rest of her life. But then I said, okay, that’s fine, and that’s life. We all have to work it. We all have to have that journey. And yeah. That’s how I knew I have grown, me managing to still talk to her, despite what she did to me, yeah.

Okay, so you’ve grown – like all of these bad things that happened to you, made you grow into a more mature person.

And what is your dream now?
That’s still my dream. My dream is… You’re going to laugh at me. (Laughing)

No, no, say! My dream is…
Well, my dream is I still want to support LGBT people, to be honest. I still, I want to help a lot of people to come out because the last, the last video I made, um I was proud of myself, first of all. And many people came to me, speaking to me, I want that energy, you know what I mean? I want to help people fully come out. People not just to be scared of themselves because we run the city, that’s one thing they should know. That gay people run the city.
I actually wrote something, you know?

I actually, you know, I used to go to um, I used to go to some workshops for name redacted. Yeah, he is—I think he’s a mixed, he’s mixed, he’s white and, yeah, black, yeah. So he was, he was working with ‘Out and Proud’, something there. So I went there with him and then he said he hasn’t finished, but we made some of the stories in that book. I made the title, the, ‘The City of the Gay’. And then, yeah (laughing), he was laughing.

So what, what is your dream? Your dream is, say ‘My dream is to help LGBT people in like our countries to come out’?

And like, inspire them?

Okay, would you say the whole sentence? Because I don’t want to, I want to have it in your voice.
Okay. My dream is to inspire a lot of gay people in Uganda, like most of these young ones that are coming out now, to show them that’s it okay to be gay. And, you don’t have any problem, because they think, some of them when they grow up they think they’re gay, so I want to show them that they don’t have any problem. That’s them. And they got to believe who they are. They have to thank God for who they are because they are different from other people. That’s what, that’s my dream, being able to talk to them, yeah.

Amazing, amazing, amazing. Thank you so much Sumayya. I really appreciate you coming here, doing the photo shoot and answering my questions. You’re really, really inspiring. And I wish you the best when you’re going to be famous, don’t forget about me.
(Laughing) I’m going to be famous because I told Florence already, I’m going to America and I’m going to be famous.

Ohhh, yes.
And I actually want one thing, I want again as well, I want to if in future – because I won’t say now – because now, my life is in danger, but life, when I have a lot of wings to fly, I’m a, I’m a a lot of wings. I’m going to step on every, I mean, how can I call them? Presidents of Uganda, they have to accept gay people. Come what may, you’re going to accept us in Uganda and then I’m going to, I’m going to fight that till my last breath.

When you have what? Wings.
Yeah, wings to fly.

Ohh wings, wings. I heard wigs.
I said if I have wings, I can fly, I’m going to step on their heads, they’re going to accept us. Come what may, we are going to lead that country.

Trust me.

Yes. One day, one day.
One day.

And, yeah, thank you for answering the questions. Would you like to add anything to tell people in Europe, umm, that, you know, to understand the, the life of refugees here in the U.K?
Uh, okay. Well, what about—oh you mean all of Europe or in London? European countries?

In, in general, like just like people of first world countries like to understand what does it mean to be a refugee?
Okay, well, and what I wanted to talk about is, I want to talk about people of first world, is it first world? Yeah, countries. They have to accept, they have to understand the situation of people coming to their countries to seek asylum, to be refugees in their countries. It takes us a lot to come from our country, to come to these countries just to seek asylum, to seek protection. Just hear us out and know what we are going through, because it’s so hard for you as well to just stand up and talk about yourself. It’s not that easy and you should respect, you should respect the fact that we have that confidence to come out this way, despite that it’s hard and we are crying in our hearts, but we still come out to speak to you, to listen to us. Yeah. And I think that’s all I can say to them and not to judge them, not to call them liars, not to think that they’re here for anything. We are here for protection. If in our country, we are not given protection and then here in first world country, they say they can give our protection, so we ask you guys to give us protection. That’s all I can say.

Okay, amazing. Thank you so much Sumayya. And I really appreciate the time that you’ve given me, and as we said, we’re going to go clubbing after COVID. All of us, uh, together.
That’s on period.

That’s on period.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. (Both laughing).

Thank you so much for your time Sumayya, speak soon.
Alright, bye Nour. Bye bye.


Many 1000 Dreams interviews were not conducted in English. Their translation has not always been performed by professional translators. Despite great efforts to ensure accuracy, there may be errors.