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Gay U.K. Athlete Who Feared Deportation to Kenya Gets Reprieve

Kenneth Macharia
Kenneth Macharia

Rugby player Kenneth Macharia, who said he would be persecuted in Kenya for being gay, won't be deported immediately, but his future remains uncertain.

A gay rugby player who feared deportation from the U.K. to his native country of Kenya has gotten a temporary reprieve.

The U.K.'s Home Office informed Kenneth Macharia on Tuesday that his deportation notice had been canceled, according to a tweet from James Heappey, a member of Parliament who was assisting him. Macharia had been held at a detention center near London's Heathrow Airport after his request for asylum was rejected, and he thought he would be put on a plane back to Kenya, where he said he would face persecution, The Guardian reports.

But members of his inclusive rugby team, the Bristol Bisons, started a petition on Change.org to stop his deportation, and more than 70,000 people have signed it. His mother, Jacinta Macharia, who is a British citizen, had also urged the Home Office to let him to stay. The deportation proceedings were halted and Kenneth Macharia was released, apparently because of those appeals.

His future remains uncertain, though. "Clearly this is great news that he's not going to be on a plane any time soon," Heappey told the BBC. "Ken's solicitor needs to understand exactly what led to the cancellation of the notice. What needs to happen now is he and his solicitor need to sit down because there is an awful lot of hard work to be done."

Macharia came to the U.K. on a student visa in 2009. He has been able to stay so far due to extensions of his visa, first as a student, then as a highly skilled immigrant, as he is a mechanical design engineer. He made an asylum claim in 2016, pointing out Kenya's antigay laws. People convicted of gay sex in the nation face lengthy prison sentences.

"I'd be forced to pretend I'm straight" in Kenya, Macharia told The Guardian. "I would have to go back into the closet. It would be disappointing to pretend to be something I'm not. It would mean living alone, never being in a relationship, never having a partner."

The Home Office acknowledges that Kenya is a difficult place to be gay, but it contends the country's repressive situation doesn't meet the standard of persecution. That is "absurd," Macharia told the publication, adding, "We can't really be gay in Kenya. People are very homophobic. Being caught by the police would be scary. There are also criminals who blackmail gay people."

He has found a home with the rugby club, he noted to The Guardian. He joined it in 2015, and he is the team photographer as well as a player; he also helps with first aid. "The rugby club is my main social hub," he said. "Most of my friends are at the club. I spend a lot of my free time there. On training days I play with the team. But on match days I prefer being the photographer."

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