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Home Office accommodation ‘unsafe’ for LGBTQI+ asylum seekers

LGBTQI+ forced migrants seeking asylum in the UK face dangerous living conditions, homophobic abuse from Home Office contractors and sexual harassment, a new study finds.

02/07/24

Home Office accommodation ‘unsafe’ for LGBTQI+ asylum seekers

A new report finds ‘numerous dangers’ to queer forced migrants as a result of the UK asylum system.

The Queer SEREDA report says that, for people trying to escape their home country because of violence and discrimination due to their sexuality or gender identity, the danger does not end when they reach the UK.

Researchers at the University of Birmingham, with support from Rainbow Migration, heard harrowing stories of violence and hostility from assault in asylum accommodation to homophobic language used in Home Office interviews and court hearings.

Pip McKnight, Research and Impact Fellow at the University of Birmingham, said it was ironic that the UK has just celebrated Pride Month, while many queer LGBTQI+ are not safe in the UK due to Government-imposed systems.

“Through interviews with asylum seekers and service providers, we have discovered numerous dangers and abuses faced by LGBTQI+ people in the UK asylum system. These range from assault in asylum accommodation to homophobic language being directed at them by interpreters in Home Office interviews and court hearings.”

One of the biggest risks faced by queer migrants in the asylum system was unsafe Home Office accommodation. LGBTQI+ people are being housed in accommodation alongside people from the communities they are trying to escape, putting them at risk of harassment, and physical and sexual assault.

Researchers found that doors in some housing does not lock, which they say makes it impossible to shelter safely from assailants, with one gay asylum seeker reporting having to sleep with a knife under his pillow for protection.

Victor, originally from Nigeria claimed asylum in 2017. He had studied for his undergraduate degree in the UK in 2013 and was able to live openly as a gay man. However, after returning home once he finished university there was an escalation in homophobic abuse towards him from family, people at work and even the police.

“I was the only gay person in the house and also the only one who didn't speak Arabic which added the difficulty of a language barrier,” he said. “One of these men started to sexually harass me. He seemed to think because I was gay it was fine for him to grab me when I was cooking or in a shared living space.

“It escalated to him dry humping me and it got so bad that I was scared to come out of my room. I reported him to our housing officer, but the behaviour didn't stop, and I didn't get an update on any action they had taken to talk to him or keep me safe.”

The behaviour didn't end until Victor got advice and support from a friend he had made in Birmingham, who used to be a police officer. Now Victor helps run a support group for other LGBTQI+ asylum seekers in Coventry.

He added: “From my own experience and the stories I hear from people in the support group, the findings in the report do not surprise me. We hear stories of people suffering homophobic abuse from interpreters during Home Office interviews and living in unsafe accommodation all the time. The Home Office needs to implement better safeguarding for queer asylum seekers, including expanding specific LGBTQI+ accommodation, to keep people safe while their claim is being processed.”

For ‘visibly queer’ people, the danger was even more prevalent. One trans woman was sexually harassed in lifts by asylum seekers and followed to her bedroom by groups of men. In a separate incident, a service provider in Wales reported that a trans asylum seeker was forced to hide in his room after being threatened with a knife by another resident. Unable to call the police, as there was no signal, he went downstairs and was accosted again and had his phone smashed. The housing provider classed this as a ‘household spat’ and took no action to safeguard the victim. The report also details that a ‘femme’ presenting gay man had to sleep with a chair against his door due to unwanted advances from other residents.

The report also detailed incidents of homophobia and transphobia from interpreters during asylum interviews and court hearings, as well as in translated materials.

Some people reported incidents of interpreters refusing to translate words such as ‘gay’ and ‘bisexual’, not understanding basic concepts of sexual diversity, and perpetrating homophobic or transphobic abuse in interviews and court settings. Because no one else in the room speaks the language other than the asylum seeker and the translator, no one knows it is happening.

Issues were also reported in the quality of Home Office-translated information. In a welcome guide provided by Migrant Help and translated into Arabic, contained an offensive homophobic term for lesbian in text providing signposting to LGBTQI+ support organisations.

Professor Jenny Phillimore, Chief Investigator on the SEREDA project at the University of Birmingham, said the dangers were a hidden problem in the asylum system, but that this report has begun to shed light on the issue.

“The UK is a country that we like to think of as overall pretty safe for LGBTQI+ people, but our research has shown that this does not extend to queer asylum seekers. We need to create a system that protects people escaping persecution due to their identity from further abuse and harassment.”

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