Source: Lesbian + Gay Foundation
By Joanne Dunning
This July the UK Supreme Court ruled that lesbian and gay asylum seekers could no longer be sent back to places where they would face persecution based on their sexual orientation.
The ruling meant that the focus was now on lesbian and gay asylum seekers proving that they are gay, as opposed to proving that they couldn't live "discreetly" as lesbian or gay in their country of origin.
Last week, LGBT asylum seekers based in the North West came together with people who work for asylum agencies, to discuss the challenges that face them, both in terms of living in the UK and UK asylum system.
It was highlighted that LGBT asylum seekers encounter homophobia in their accommodation, at non LGBT support groups, in the legal system and in society.
One asylum seeker revealed that she was living in accommodation with 20 other women all of whom, like her, are from Africa and many of whom have a very negative view of lesbian and gay people. She highlights that in this accommodation, once again she is not free to be herself, and she must live in hiding, as many of the women hold homophobic views.
There are also reports of homophobia in non LGBT specific asylum support groups; lesbian, gay and bisexual asylum seekers accessing these groups, have said that they have experienced homophobia from other people attending the group from their countries of origin.
LGBT asylum seekers said that they are the only asylum group who are told to go home and live a lie, be discreet, or are expected to relocate. One asylum seeker added that she believed that the judge who handled one of her hearings was homophobic towards her, much like the women who share accommodation with her are.
Poor Legal Representation
Many people present, highlighted how difficult it was for asylum seekers to get good legal representation. Unless there is a 50% chance of winning the case, legal representatives are reluctant to take them on. LGBT asylum cases are notoriously difficult, the proposed cuts to legal aid doubled with solicitors' reluctance to take them on, will impact greatly on LGBT asylum cases being successful.
One man present, with very little English, represented himself at a recent asylum hearing. Not surprisingly, with the odds stacked against him; trying to prove he was gay in another language, his bid for asylum was rejected.
Linked to poor legal representation, was also difficulty with interpreters. The role of the interpreter is hugely important in asylum cases, as many in search of asylum are still learning, or speak little or no English. It was suggested that there is a reliance on interpreters from countries of origin, some of whom hold their cultures' homophobic views. An example was given of an interpreter who walked out of a LGBT asylum hearing mid way through; unable to deal with the nature of the content she was translating.
The suspicion and misunderstanding around asylum seekers was also highlighted, those who think refugees are here for UK benefits, as opposed to escaping persecution in their homeland. Those present highlighted how difficult it was to survive on £35 pounds a week and the frustration of wanting to work, but not being allowed to work, the majority of the asylum seekers present were all volunteering in their local communities.
It was highlighted that lack of money made it difficult for many asylum seekers who live in outlying areas of big cities to travel in to the city centre to access gay friendly support groups, which are a huge lifeline and can be integral in their fight to stay in the UK.
One gay asylum seeker present said that his support had been discontinued, as he was awaiting a fresh claim, making him destitute.
It was highlighted that more needed to be done with Home Office Staff and UK Border Agency Officials to help them understand the issues around LGBT asylum. Refugee Action's "Free to Be Me" Campaign urges better training and information in this area, find out more about it here.
The support of the local gay community was also highlighted, whether that be agencies helping gay asylum seekers to come out more openly, LGBT groups being better promoted and accessible, agencies writing support letters for LGBT asylum seekers that they know and work with, and more accessible information for LGBT refugee and asylum seekers.
If you are an LGBT Asylum Seeker, or work with LGBT Asylum Seekers you might find these national and local links useful.
LGBT Asylum Support
The Lesbian + Gay Foundation
For information on existing groups and support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people, as well as information on specific groups and organisations for or supporting LGB&T refugee and asylum seekers, you can contact The Lesbian & Gay Foundation on 0845 3 30 30 30 or check out local groups at www.lgf.org.uk/directory.
Lesbian Immigration Support Group
A group of and for women in Greater Manchester who are lesbian asylum seekers and refugees and their supporters. The group meets monthly at The Lesbian Community Project office in Manchester and organise regular social events.
If you would like to join the group, please contact Nina on 0784 207 4879 or email: email@example.com.
Gay in the UK
Gay in the UK is a social and peer support group for LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, both men and women. The group meets every 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the month at Refugee Action (Edge St, Northern Quarter) between 6-8pm.
Gay in the UK doe not give specialist or professional advice on refugee and asylum processes such as legal, housing, benefits etc....However, the members share experiences and advice, which they find very helpful.
Contact details for Gay in the UK are email: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone: 07952459160.
LGBT Refugee and Asylum Seeker Helpline (run by Unity in the Community)
Confidential helpline for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender asylum seekers. Line open every Tuesday from 18:30 - 22:30 - 0845 250 0524.
UK Lesbian + Gay Immigration Group
London based organisation providing support and information to LGBT asylum seekers.
www.uklgig.org.uk 020 7922 7812
LGBT Asylum News - madikazemi.blogspot.com
– this blog documents the situations in countries from which LGBT people are fleeing to the UK hoping for a safe haven and the problems they can face from the UK asylum system.
Stonewall Report on LGBT Asylum seekers and the current Home Office practice www.stonewall.org.uk/nogoingback
Mainstream support services for refugee and asylum seekers
Providing high quality and high volume screening and advice service for asylum seekers and other agencies throughout the North West.
Refugee Action, 23-37 Edge Street, Manchester M4 1HW (map)
Telephone switchboard: 0161 831 5420 or check out the web: http://www.refugee-action.org.uk/manchester/advice.aspx
ASHA - Asylum Support Housing Advice
Asylum Support Housing Advice (ASHA) is a non-profit voluntary organisation, based in Manchester, that helps asylum seekers whose applications have been refused and fully determined, and whose status renders them homeless and destitute.
Asylum Support Housing Advice (ASHA), Zion Resource Centre, 339 Stretford Road, Manchester, M15 4ZY
Check out the LGBT specific section of their website: http://sites.google.com/site/ashamanchester/home/pride
MRSN - Manchester Refugee Support Network.
MRSN aims to build strong and independent refugee community organisations, develop the skills of community leaders and give people the information they need to settle and build new lives.
MRSN Advice Centre, 129 Princess Road, Moss Side, Manchester, M14 4RB
Telephone: 0161 868 0777 or check out the website: http://www.mrsn.org.uk/node/1
Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit - provides legal advice to asylum seekers, including LGBT asylum.
http://www.gmiau.org Tel: 0161 740 7722
Davis Blank Furniss - a law firm with years of experience in LGBT asylum.
www.mccmanchester.co.uk 0161 834 3568