A woman who fled Zimbabwe after men poured boiling hot water over her for being gay has told how she was asked to prove her sexuality when she sought asylum in the UK.
Skhumbuzo Khumalo, 24, left the country, where homosexuality is illegal, after fearing for her life - only to be subjected to ‘degrading’ treatment on arrival in the UK.
She spent four weeks at a detention centre and faced a gruelling five hour interview where she was asked to provide intimate photographs of her with another woman to prove her case.
Eventually, she was granted asylum and with Fixers, she has made a film which tells her story.
She says: ‘Clearly just by looking at you, they will not judge if you are gay or straight. So they left me in a position where I had to produce intimate photos, which I didn’t feel comfortable sharing. It was extremely degrading.”
At one point, Skhumbuzo thought she was going to be sent back to Zimbabwe, where only a few months ago President Robert Mugabe rejected homosexual rights in a UN speech.
Here, it is a criminal offence for two people of the same sex to hold hands, hug or kiss.
Skhumbuzo says: ‘I was asked if I could go back home and live in another city and hide the fact that I’m gay.
‘I thought, “how can you hide the fact that you love a certain person, it’s ridiculous.”
‘When I thought I might be sent back to Zimbabwe, I felt like committing suicide, because me ending my life is better than people back home ending it for me.’
Skhumbuzo was at a friend’s house with others from the LGBT community when the attack occurred.
She says: ‘A group of police officers forced their way in. Everyone scattered as they began beating us. I was told: “You need to be fixed. We’ll kill you. Gay people are demonic and possessed.”
‘I saw one of them reach for the teapot, and to my horror, he threw the boiling water over me.
‘I was screaming in agony, it was so painful.’
Skhumbuzo claims she was unable to go to the hospital for treatment because a police statement is required.
She says: ‘I was left with big blisters which have since turned into scars. I was lucky to escape with my life.
‘After the attack I felt my dignity, self-respect and confidence drain away. I couldn’t live like that anymore.
‘I left Zimbabwe because of the torture I was facing.’
In 2014, Skhumbuzo made the agonising decision to leave her family and friends behind.
She says: ‘I miss them so much. I speak to them regularly through WhatsApp but it’s not the same. When
I’m down I need my mum but she’s not there.
‘I miss my little brother. I miss him being an idiot and a pain in the way little brothers are. Him telling me what he’s done, what’s happening at school.
‘I don’t know when I’ll see my family again. It breaks my heart.’
Despite finding a safe haven in the UK, Skhumbuzo is haunted by the attack.
She says: ‘I have nightmares almost every night. It’s as if it only happened yesterday.
‘I was like any other child, I had a happy childhood, everything you’d want and hope your childhood to be but then it changed.’
Skhumbuzo has since settled in Glasgow and is working as a fundraiser.
She says: 'When I found out I had my refugee status, it was a huge relief. Refugee to me means safety, security and comfort. I’m now free to live my life as who I really I am.'