Nothing to be proud of: UK’s approach to LGBTQ+ asylum accommodation
Guest authors, Claire Fletcher (PhD candidate at University College London) and Aydan Greatrick (PhD candidate at University College London) highlight the housing experiences of those in the LGBTQ+ community who are seeking asylum in the UK. This blog is part of our equality, diversity and inclusion initiative.
LGBTQI+ asylum claimants need safety, security, and privacy. Many have fled situations of homophobia, transphobia or other forms of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI)-based persecution. Unfortunately, the repetition of these experiences is replicated in asylum accommodation in the UK, which is often not sensitive to the needs of LGBTQI+ identified asylum claimants.
Abuse and harassment in asylum accommodation
LGBTQI+ asylum claimants frequently report incidences of verbal and physical harassment and violence. Even if asylum claimants report incidences to police or accommodation providers, they can still be expected to share accommodation with the perpetrator. The Home Office withdraws support from people who are absent from their asylum accommodation for more than 14 days over a 6-month period. This rule keeps LGBTQI+ asylum claimants trapped in unsafe situations. Despite reporting a violent incident to the police, one refugee Claire spoke with felt he had to return to his accommodation and stay with the perpetrator as he feared if he did not, he would be made street homeless.
The social consequences of un-safe accommodation
During our research, many of our interlocutors spoke of deliberately hiding their sexual orientation in asylum accommodation due to a fear they would be victims of harassment and violence if it was discovered. “I just feel that if they knew-, I was just scared, because some of them are very, very violent”. This fear was experienced in hotels, in dispersal accommodation and even in safe houses for survivors of trafficking. Interlocutors reported concerns about attending LGBTQI+ venues and organisations in case they were seen by the people they were living with, meaning they may miss out on specialised support or opportunities to interact with other LGBTQI+ people. Claire also spoke with asylum claimants who felt it was impossible to form romantic relationships or attachments due to a lack of privacy.
Losing social ties
Home Office policies mean asylum claimants can be moved to new housing at a moment’s notice, often to parts of the country that are far away from the places they have previously been residing, often for over a year. For one asylum claimant who spoke with Aydan, this meant losing touch with the support network she had built up around her in her previous place of residence. Being relocated also prevents sustained and continuous specialist support being made available to LGBTQI+ asylum claimants throughout their asylum journey.
Impacts on asylum claims
These factors not only place LGBTQI asylum claimants in unsafe situations. It also makes it more difficult to present the sorts of compelling evidence required by the Home Office to ‘prove’ that refugees are LGBTQI+. Feeling unsafe in accommodation means it is difficult to participate in LGBTQI+ life, engage with LGBTQI+ support groups, or build meaningful relationships. This may mean asylum claimants are ‘disbelieved’ and have their claim rejected.
Currently, the UK government is embarking on a set of reforms under the Nationality and Borders Bill that will drastically affect LGBTQI+ asylum claimants. A key pillar of the proposed reforms is the establishment of large-scale accommodation centres where all asylum claimants will be housed and processed. Proposed sites include barracks and offshore accommodation centres. There is strong evidence to suggest that these reforms will compound the existing challenges facing LGBTQI+ asylum claimants.
Claire spoke to one person about their time living in barracks. They had fled their country of origin due the torture they had faced at the hands of members of their community. On arriving in the UK, they were placed in barracks and were in a state of acute fear and mental distress due to the fact they were housed with people from their country of origin and the fact that their sexual orientation would be discovered. Should LGBTQI+ asylum claimants be uniformly housed in such large-scale and/or offshore accommodation centres, they will likely face heightened discrimination and insecurity.
The existing use of barracks by the Home Office have raised serious human rights concerns around filthy and decrepit conditions. Evidence suggests that large-scale models of asylum accommodation result in greater harm for inhabitants, including a failure to provide for health needs and safeguarding issues, as well as a lack of clarity over who is responsible for meeting needs and maintaining standards. Third sector organisations have also raised concerns that people in barracks and off-shore accommodation would lose access to much-needed specialist support.
Safe asylum accommodation requires sensitive policies
The UK government should make an effort to ensure that asylum accommodation suits all refugees and asylum claimants, and is sensitive to the particular needs of those with protected characteristics, including LGBTQI+ people. Transparent and clear mechanisms should be established, including escalation pathways to allow LGBTQI+ claimants to report incidents of violence and harassment. Currently, those who report face long waiting times for incidents to be resolved and often those who report incidents are relocated, rather than the perpetrator. This is especially problematic for LGBTQI+ individuals who find it more difficult to build social and specialist support networks.
Claire Fletcher is a PhD candidate at University College London and Aydan Greatrick is a PhD candidate at University College London.
Views expressed by authors may not represent the views of CaCHE.
 For a related example, see the experiences of LGBT+ asylum seekers living in UK detention centres, where the hostile conditions in which they are accommodated undermine their ability to live openly as LGBT+ people, in turn making it more difficult to produce evidence about their sexual orientation and gender identity: No Safe Refuge for LGBT Asylum Seekers
 Asylum Accommodation: House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee Twelfth Report of Session 2016-17: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmhaff/637/637.pdf
Date: February 24, 2022 9:00 am
Categorised in: Equality Diversity & Inclusion