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'The beginning of a new life': Gambian lesbian refugee finds home in Halifax

DARTMOUTH - After being in Halifax for a month, Jahu Camara says she still feels in a dream.

Jahu Camara, 20, poses for a photo in Dartmouth on Wednesday.

Sitting at a wooden table, the 20-year-old Gambian woman looks down at the sleeves of her white shirt as she talks quietly, glancing up to break into a wide smile at the mention of her partner or playing soccer.

Camara arrived in Halifax on Oct. 15, after fleeing The Gambia due to persecution for being a lesbian, and filing as a refugee in neighbouring Senegal.

“Being a homosexual in The Gambia is a deadly act,” Camara said Wednesday in the Dartmouth home where she’s temporarily living with a local family.

This summer, the Rainbow Refugee Association of Nova Scotia (RRANS) filed to sponsor Camara as their first female refugee when they saw her profile on a “visa office referred program” list, said spokesperson Corrie Melanson.

Stepping off the plane in Halifax seemed like a different world, Camara said.

“If I remember where I am from, and where I am, it’s just like a dream,” she said.

Camara said there was a point in 2014 when police began arresting gays and lesbians in The Gambia, so she made the decision to leave her family, including 10 siblings, that October.

Her Muslim family knows about her sexuality, Camara said, and while her mother and aunt accept her, “not 100 per cent” of them do, but are happy to know she is safe.

Some of Camara’s friends were arrested for homosexuality but released this March, which she said is “lucky.”

“If you are not lucky, no one will know your whereabouts becuase you recieve every kind of torturing there,” Camara said.

Many of her friends are now in Senegal where it’s “much safer” than Gambia, Camara said, but you can still only be open in places like clubs.

It was not easy to hide who she is and her real feelings, Camara said, but added with a smile that her British partner is planning to visit Halifax in December and maybe work for a time.

Besides continuing her education in information technology, Camara said she’d love to play soccer in Halifax and will likely live here for a year – or “forever” if she loves it.

“It’s like the beginning of a new life,” Camara said. “I’m feeling the real me.”

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