When Savanna first visited England, she did so as a gay man, visiting her then partner in London. During the visit her former partner posted a photograph of the two of them on social media. This image made it way back to her family back home who were unaware of her sexuality, leading to her Mum telling Savanna she wasn’t welcome back home.
When her and her partner split up, she had nowhere to go. She ended up sleeping in an airport before staying with a friend in their university halls for a while. That friend recommended that she claim asylum in the UK. When she did, the Home Office placed her in hostel accommodation where she did everything she could to appear heterosexual, not wanting anyone to know about her LGBTQI+ identity for fear of being abused.
She spent a few years bouncing around homeless hostels and friends' households. During this time she transitioned to become Savanna, but, even with this knowledge, the Home Office moved her into an all-male hostel. She describes being so afraid that she would avoid even leaving her room to eat.
Eventually, she contacted us at Micro Rainbow. We helped her file an appeal and supported her to move out of the hostel into emergency housing.
Unfortunately, across the globe people like Savanna continue to experience persecution and discrimination due to their sexuality and/or gender identity. Some of these people end up fleeing their home country.
When arriving in the UK, LGBTQI+ migrants often face several challenges including; poor mental health (normally due to the trauma they have experienced), digital poverty, struggles to access health care and violence and abuse.
These factors, coupled with their uncertain legal status, expose many people to exploitation when they attempt to find housing. Such exploitation includes living in domestic servitude or engaging in other unpaid or underpaid work and/or exchanging sex for accommodation, money, and food. Life can become even more severe for those who have no recourse to public funds, like failed asylum seekers, with rough sleeping a common issue amongst LGBTQI+ migrants.
Even those who are able to access Home Office housing, like Savanna, frequently report violence and abuse by other asylum seekers who hold homophobic views. This is particularly true for trans, queer and intersex asylum seekers who can be more visible.
Unlike other migrants, LGBTQI+ people are also often ostracised and rejected by their family members and ethnic communities in the UK. In many cases, LGBTQI+ migrants are hesitant to connect with their ethnic communities or be open about their identity in mainstream refugee services because they fear being outed in their country of origin. Many people are therefore left with no family or ethnic community, no refugee community and no LGBTQI+ community.
At the same time, LGBTQI+ migrants’ cases can be complex and require more time than legal aid pays for, often going through multiple appeals. But there is a lack of expertise within the legal profession in dealing with immigration cases based on sexuality, gender identity or intersex status, meaning they can be less attractive to law firms, with many people unable to find legal representation.
In response to the situation of violence and abuse that LGBTQI+ asylum seekers face, Micro Rainbow, with the support of the Home Office, designed and implemented the first housing scheme exclusively for LGBTQI+ migrants. Micro Rainbow now runs 15 safe houses across the country, with the plan to expand service provision to 40 safe houses over the next two years. These spaces allow people to be themselves without fear, helping them focus on the future.
Whilst providing safe housing to LGBTQI+ asylum seekers is crucial, many don’t have an asylum claim or recourse to public funds , marginalising them even further. That’s why, with support from the Greater London Authority, we are piloting a project that supports rough sleepers in London with a combination of legal advice, housing and holistic support. We are also running a safe house dedicated to LGBTQI+ migrants with no recourse to public funds, supporting them to access legal representation with the goal of securing their immigration status.
The provision of housing to LGBTQI+ migrants is not enough. Their extreme isolation also demands mental and physical health support. Micro Rainbow also runs social inclusion and employability programmes. Giving people opportunities to meet and make new friends to help reduce their isolation is critical, as well as workshops to learn how to deal with past trauma, how to re-build confidence and self-esteem and to learn new life and employability skills.
The combination of a safe, stable place to live and holistic support that focuses on a person’s needs, is key to helping LGBTQI+ non-UK nationals lead happy and fulfilling lives.
As Savanna says now “I’m not giving up hope. I’m going to keep working, fighting and dreaming for my future.”
About Micro Rainbow
Founded in 2012 Micro Rainbow is the leading organisation in the UK supporting the integration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) people who flee persecution and reach the UK in search of safety. Micro Rainbow’s holistic approach to integration is based on three pillars: safe housing, social inclusion and employability support. These programmes ensure that LGBTQI refugees are not only safe but also able to live fulfilling, independent lives. Micro Rainbow has won a number of awards for innovation and is recognised for creating the first ever national safe housing scheme for LGBTQI people fleeing persecution, with a current capacity of over 22,000 bed-nights a year.