23 Aug

Regarding the 08/21/14 article on BuzzFeed about Friends New Underground Railroad

Needless to say, we – the Friends New Underground Railroad (FNUR) project team – have seen J. Lester Feder’s 08/21/14 article, “American Organizations Sought Thousands Off Unsubstantiated Story Of Stoning Of LGBT Ugandans” on BuzzFeed. FNUR values transparency and we wish to respond in order to clarify concerns raised.

#1: As we told Lester in writing, as of today (08/22/14 updated totals), since FNUR’s inception on April 13, 2014, we have taken in $43,860.79, and have spent $45,463.30. All of the funds have gone to support the work of the Ugandan conductors who, to date, have moved 457 LGBT Ugandans and their allies out of Uganda. This includes five children (as young as age 2), 33 people who identify as transgender, and the rest roughly split between men and women. We have supported two difficult medical evacuations and some medical expenses related to the severe beatings of two conductors who were outed and several passengers who were too sick to travel, one cellphone replacement when security was compromised, and some interim lodging expenses for people who couldn’t immediately get out. We have signed and dated receipts for both hospitals and for lodgings, as well as signed receipts for transportation.

All decisions about how funds are used (and how much is needed), who gets to ride and in what order, the pathways out, the use of safe houses, modes of transportation, and interim destinations are made by the Ugandan conductors – not the FNUR project team.

We don’t make decisions on behalf of the rural LGBT Ugandans fleeing for their lives because we are not Ugandans and we can’t possibly know what they need or how to best secure their safe passage. What we do know is that the Ugandan conductors have firsthand experience with rural living, LGBT persecution and social work. All of these create the conditions for the success of the railroad we have seen to date. To be sure the Railroad would not be operational without the support of our donors who come from around the world, but the US activists coordinating the funding of the Railroad take no credit for conducting the life-threatening work on the ground.

Our only requirement from here is that none of the passengers will end up in refugee camps, none will apply or receive assistance from UNHCR, and that there are arrangements for housing, food, medical, psychosocial, legal, and visa support at the interim countries. None of these arrangements are paid for by the Friends New Underground Railroad.

We have the names of all passengers who have been on the Railroad. To date, we can confirm approximately 175 people have reached their final destinations, in the following countries: South Africa, Sweden, Canada, Rwanda, Netherlands, Denmark, France, Germany, and Norway. There are more, but these are the ones we can confirm at this time.

#2: No one from the Friends New Underground Railroad has received even one penny or one shilling from its operations. In fact, one of its members has donated all the postage stamps, and another the envelopes we use; the “thank you” cards we use are printed for free and donated; and the hosting, design, maintenance and updating of this website was donated as well.

No Ugandan conductor has received even a single Ugandan shilling in compensation for his/her work; not even for transportation. One conductor did receive a replacement cellphone when security was breached. We have paid some resettlement expenses for a conductor with a wife and three young children who was outed, directly threatened with death (in an area where there were prior reported killings), and his wife and daughter threatened with gang rape. We expect to have a statement from him, and be able to set up media interviews with him soon.

#3: Contrary to what Mr. Feder wrote, less than $1,000 was raised in our last appeal. (We wish it was more! As you can see from the above, we are slightly in the red, and we have some very frightened people waiting – as of today, 13 women who have been forced into hiding under horrific attacks.)

#4: We stand fully behind the reports given to us of the seven murders. In one case, we have photos of the attack – one of which we know has been posted on the web, and a statement by one of the conductors who was involved in the initial rescue, and then burying the body of the murdered man.

In the case of the six who were stoned, we have three independent accounts – from two of the conductors and from a local resident, including reports of accounts on radio stations. We have been told that there are now photographs of the killing location – taken at great risk. We have been told they will be shared with us, and yet we have no plans to publish such photos. We want to be clear that these are not our reports, but those of Ugandans, and some very courageous ones, who gained absolutely nothing from these reports, either for themselves, or for anyone else.

#5: We are working on setting up interviews with passengers who have escaped with reporters from various media, some of whom we have been communicating with since before the report of these murders. That is not as easy as it might seem. A very large number of the passengers have some form of PTSD and need time to heal. Many of them are struggling in the midst of that to set up new lives in totally foreign locations. Remember: the Railroad does not currently operate in Kampala and most of the passengers are from areas of rural Uganda. A relatively large number of them are in transit and have little access to phones or the Internet. From the conductors’ perspective, they need to ensure that none of the interviews or reports will compromise security of this ongoing operation. We are in contact with some who are ready to speak publicly, and are working on the proper venues.

Please be patient – these decisions are NOT up to us, but to the conductors. They understand the need for disclosure and transparency, but they also understand the very real threats under which they undertake their dangerous and courageous work.

Thank you for your continued support.
Gabi Clayton, FNUR co-manager