The pandemic is harder for asylum-seekers in the LGBTIQ community because the Home Office doesn’t provide safe spaces for our community, putting us at the mercy of house mates, some of whom are homo/bi/transphobic.
During Covid-19 the instruction for the public was to stay indoors to be safe, but for asylum seekers this means going into complete isolation from the outer world. A lot of us relied on drop-in centres to socialise and kill boredom and for food, clothes, English classes and much more.
As asylum seekers, we are not allowed to work in the UK and accessing education is very limited, therefore most days look alike, or we find ways to contribute to society and to change the routine like volunteering with local organisations or socialising in drop-in centres. Unfortunately, with lockdown most volunteering opportunities have stopped, and drop-in centres have completely closed down, leaving the asylum seeker community behind closed doors, with no access to internet and living in rooms and houses which are sometimes falling apart. In Home Office housing we are put together with people from completely different countries and cultures and languages, making communication often very hard to establish. Our only escape is to stay in our rooms, increasing our mental illness and anxiety.
This scenario is ten times harder for the LGBTIQ community. The Home Office doesn’t provide safe spaces for our community, putting us at the mercy of our house mates. Some of them are from homo/bi/transphobic communities. To avoid any altercations, we find ourselves forced to completely lock ourselves down.
Before lockdown there was a lack of safe spaces or services dedicated to the LGBT community in Wales. Most of us who have escaped our countries because of oppression and persecution based on our sexual orientation, in order to live a better life, have to go back into the closet. Our fate is in the hands of the Home Office. Many LGBTIQ asylum seekers find it hard to access services and socialise with others to avoid slurs and ridicule. We are always reminded to not disturb the system otherwise it will affect our cases, and because of this many don’t report hate crimes and mistreatment.
My transgender friend recently told me his accommodation manager was referring to him by his ‘dead identity’, creating anxiety for him whenever the manager comes for a house inspection. When I asked him why he didn’t report it, he told me he didn’t know if anything can be done. This showed me that a lot of asylum seekers don’t know their rights in this country. A lot of training should be given to service providers when dealing with the LGBTIQ community.
In this pandemic, a lot of events had to cancelled or postponed. Among them are Pride celebrations. Many of the LGBTIQ community are always looking forward to this moment: a time for visibility, education and more importantly advocacy. Asylum seekers from countries that still persecute the LGBTIQ community often choose Europe and other western countries because of those Pride celebrations, a chance to wave the rainbow. The Home Office demands evidence to prove someone’s sexuality and being involved in Pride celebrations, as well as gay bars and social events, can be submitted as evidence to prove sexuality. Lockdown meant it was impossible to gather this kind of evidence.
This anxiety skyrocketed when the Home Office stopping all interviews and case updates. This put us all in a limbo. The asylum process in the UK is very slow and long anyway. Covid-19 means it will be even longer, with people waiting for an interview for more than a year now and all appeals postponed.
A lot should be done to guarantee that the asylum seekers LGBTIQ community here in Wales are cared for and that our struggles are taken seriously.
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