Before Edafe Okporo became the founder and director of New York City’s first and exclusive shelter for asylum-seekers and refugees, he was alone, roaming the streets of Elizabeth in New Jersey, a refugee himself with absolutely nowhere to go.
What We Know:
- Okporo (30) grew up in Warri, a town in Southern Nigeria. In high school, he discovered he was attracted to boys, and his parents sent him to conversion therapy.
- Suffering from attacks and persecution in his town, throughout his high school and college years, he decided to move to Abuja, Nigeria; he helped found the International Center towards Advocacy on Right to Health, an LGBTQ rights organization, and HIV clinic. In 2016, he was beaten unconscious by a mob, woke up in a clinic, and knew it was no longer safe in Nigeria.
- He received a visa to attend the International LGBTQ Leaders Conference, in Washington D.C., the chance to pursue asylum in the U.S., where same-sex marriage had just been legalized.
- Arriving at JFK, he was detained and spent five months in a detention center in Elizabeth. Immigration Equality, a group that advocates on behalf of LGBTQ and HIV-positive immigrants, connected him with a lawyer and won the case.
- Being sheltered in YMCA Newark, New Jersey, he persuaded the leaders of the RDJ Refugee Shelter, in Harlem, to turn the shelter into a full-time transitional refuge for migrants escaping violence and persecution abroad.
RDJ Refugee Shelter Mission Statement:
“The RDJ Refugee Shelter is currently the only shelter in New York City specifically for homeless asylum seekers and refugees. We provide holistic care, support and advocacy for asylum seekers who are experiencing housing insecurity and resources they need to thrive in their new home”.
- The shelter, established in 2017, is New York City’s only full-time refuge for asylum-seekers and refugees. It consists of a 10-bed shelter and provides temporary housing for more than 80 migrants, advised Okporo, the shelter’s director. The shelter also offers legal counseling and job assistance.
“Knowing that New York is one of the most liberal places in the world and people are still subjected to such kind of persecution just makes me wonder where else in the world can LGBTQ migrants be safe,” Okporo stated.
Currently Okporo, a finalist for the David Prize, said that if chosen, he will utilize the money to expand the RDJ Refugee Shelter, which survives mainly on grants and donations. He plans to prepare religious leaders around New York City to use their churches, mosques, and temples as places of refuge for migrants escaping violence and persecution.