* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.Asylum seekers come to Britain in search of sanctuary and safety, but we are failing to protect members of the LGBT+ community
As someone who has worked for international human rights organisations for 15 years I’ve travelled the world, witnessing heart-breaking, state-sanctioned abuse against blameless communities. I’ve seen the horrors of the Gaza Strip, the suffocating dictatorship of North Korea, and police attacks on LGBT+ communities in Uganda.
When I return home from these trips, it’s often a relief to be back in London. As someone born and raised in Britain, I know there is a level of privilege and protection that exists here that doesn’t for so many others around the world.
That privilege and protection is seen by others. It gives many hope. We’re viewed as a beacon of safety for countless asylum seekers, and I’m proud that Britain has become a place of sanctuary for so many.
But for some immigrants seeking safety, their arrival in Britain can be the start of an uphill battle that can be just as traumatising as the horror they tried to escape.
This is especially true for LGBT+ asylum seekers.
Kaira, an intersex refugee from El Salvador who also identifies as non-binary, escaped very real threats of murder in El Salvador, where gangs have taken over large portions of cities and have unleashed an epidemic of violence against the LGBT+ community.
Claiming asylum in Britain, Kaira was placed in a home for male asylum seekers, while undertaking the asylum process, which can take months. Despite being labelled as male on the birth certificate, Kaira does not identify as male or female, something which is unable to be changed. This has kept Kaira in the home, despite not feeling safe.
What Kaira experienced in that home was deeply traumatising, having been incessantly bullied, sexually abused and physically attacked by other asylum seekers living in the house – just because of being intersex. The housing provider moved Kaira to a different house, but the abuse continued there.
There are thousands of LGBT+ people seeking asylum in Britain. Between 2015 and 2017 alone, 3,500 people claimed asylum based on their sexuality, gender identity or intersex status, according to Britain’s Home Office.
That’s thousands of LGBT+ people who could be put in homes where they experience bigotry and violence. Thousands of people who have escaped terror in their home countries, but fail to find guaranteed safety here.
All Out, an international LGBT+ rights organisation, is trying to help change that. Together with the British organisation Micro Rainbow International (MRI), All Out is crowdfunding to cover the costs for at least 10 LGBT+ asylum seekers to move into safe gay-, trans- and intersex-friendly homes while awaiting the outcome of the asylum process.
They will live with other LGBT+ asylum seekers, instead of being placed according to their birth certificate and country of origin. MRI runs five of these houses throughout England and is working with the Home Office to improve the process for LGBT+ asylum seekers.
The crowdfunder will pay for furniture, blankets, heating and electricity, and cover costs for travel and counselling for the residents. Due to the increasing demand for safe housing, MRI recently opened two new homes, but urgently needs funding to get them up and running.
Britain positions itself as a safe and welcoming place for people like Kaira, but we are failing.
We need to do so much more. Kaira, and others like her, deserve so much better.
Matt Beard is executive director of All Out, a global LGBT+ rights organisation.
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