Ore is new to Scotland. The story she carries with her will take years to process. She has fled her home country, Nigeria, through fear of prosecution and persecution. Surge‘s Jamie Smith spoke to her about her new life in Scotland and the events which brought her here. This is Ore’s story.

“Scottish food? I’m still trying to get used to it,” Ore admits with a timid smile, so as not to offend. Listening to her story, I’m anything but offended – it isn’t just adjusting to Scottish cuisine that Ore has to face. Her life has been turned upside down.

We talk online: I’m in a café in Edinburgh; she’s in her flatshare in Glasgow. My questions are stilted, and for good reason. We are meeting because Ore is going to tell me about her journey to Scotland, the country that has become her unplanned home. The story is hard to share and hard to hear.

I can’t return home – I won’t ever. My life is just in too much danger

Yet Ore, short for Oreouwana, makes our conversation easy and speaks candidly of her recent past. A mechanism for coping, perhaps. “No, I can’t return home – I won’t ever. My life is just in too much danger,” she reveals.

The place she still calls home is Nigeria. Ore travelled to the UK shy of two years ago in summer 2022, having fled her home for her own safety. Originally from Nigeria’s southwestern Ogun State, bordering Benin, Ore had committed a crime there that led her to seek refuge in a place where people like her no longer hide from the law. She is a lesbian.

Within moments of meeting her, Ore tells me about Eoyosi, the girl she once dated in Ogun State. She speaks with newfound openness about her, a sign of the safety she now feels in Scotland, but also telling of the scars she bears from the torment they suffered in Nigeria.

Ore and Eoyosi were young when they first met, exchanging glances during a pre-university training programme. They bravely built a bond that grew into something deeper. “We had big dreams. We wanted to go to school together. She wanted to become a doctor,” Ore shares with me, now revealing a melancholic smile of someone digging out deep memories. Like others like them, they kept their relationship secret. Homosexuality is punishable by up to 16 years imprisonment in Nigeria. But it is more than just jail time that they risk.

One evening in 2020, Ore and Eoyosi attended a friend’s birthday party. They both had drinks – a few too many. They kissed. But, unknown to them, they were being watched. One of Ore’s brothers, with a group of other men, set out to “correct their wrongs”. The young couple were dragged outside, and both brutally beaten. Ore managed to break free, running away from the party, but was unable to save Eoyosi from the violence.

She fled to neighbouring Lagos State. She learnt a couple of weeks later that Eoyosi’s beatings were bad. Internal bleeding. Ore, hiding in Lagos, continued to fear for her own safety when she learnt of the news that she would forever carry, wherever she went. Eoyosi’s injuries were too great – she passed away.

“Eoyosi’s father is a very influential and well-connected man,” Ore reveals. He blamed her for who his daughter had become and, ultimately, her untimely death. The police were now tracking Ore, whose family grew increasingly concerned for her safety. The only remaining choice was to send Ore abroad, where she would no longer fear for her life.

All connections with her former life in Nigeria have now been torn apart

That’s where her story starts in Scotland, carrying her belongings and her recent trauma through immigration. She is no longer in contact with her family in Nigeria. She posted once or twice on Facebook. An uncle commented on how he would no longer interact with her. In short, all connections with her former life in Nigeria have now been torn apart.

“It’s hard at times. All my life I’ve lived in Nigeria. People I’ve grown up with… you have to cut ties with them because of something you can’t help. It’s not my fault I came out as a lesbian,” Ore laments, revealing for the first time in our conversation a glimpse of fragility.

And yet, she speaks with optimism for the future. She has found a new family in the Glasgow-based organisation, LGBT Unity, which, collaborating with sister organisations in Edinburgh, offers support and a network for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers and refugees in Scotland. She talks highly of how friendly and welcoming the Scots she’d met were. “Sometimes too friendly,” she jokes.

Comforted by the safe space that the organisation provides, Ore rejoices: “when I first arrived, there was this girl who told me she was a lesbian. And I thought: wow, and you’re proud of it? People are so free here. You don’t have to hide who you are.”

She is now living in Glasgow and commuting to Aberdeen where she is studying towards a pharmaceutical degree. Part of that dream she once had with Eoyosi. But the people and places in that former vision are no more. “I guess I’m still learning to cope,” she admits with a courageous smile. After all, Ore is young. She’s only 23.

This article first featured in surgemag.org