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3 LGBTQ+ asylum seekers share their experiences

As the Tory Party ramps up its attacks on queer migrants, we speak to three people about the shocking reality of claiming asylum in Britain

Back in September, former Home Secretary Suella Braverman provoked a huge backlash when she suggested that people are pretending to be LGBTQ+ in order to “game the system” and claim asylum in Britain. According to a report by Open Democracy published last week, she didn’t have any evidence to back up this claim – which won’t come as a surprise to anyone with an understanding of the issue. Never mind that only 1.5 per cent of asylum claims mention sexuality, there is zero advantage afforded to LGBTQ+ asylum seekers, many of whom face additional layers of discrimination and violence upon arriving in Britain.

Braverman was sacked as Home Secretary last week, just days before the government’s controversial plan to send asylum seekers to be processed in Rwanda was deemed unlawful by the Supreme Court. Although it seems like a win, the Tories are still determined to press ahead with their plans to make it even more difficult for people claiming asylum in the UK, even if it means abandoning our commitments to international law. “Braverman’s [anti-migrant rhetoric didn’t] really reflect the reality of what is happening to people,” says Leila Zadeh, the executive director of Rainbow Migration. “It’s important to remember when LGBTQ+ people are applying for asylum, they are very often in fear for their lives, in fear of being tortured, raped, blackmailed, extorted or forced into marriage. They are usually absolutely terrified.”

Because proving your sexuality can be very difficult, people making a claim on that basis are often accused of lying or unfairly rejected for lack of evidence. As for the idea that people are pretending to be queer in order to seek asylum, the problem is actually the opposite: “The real issue we have is that people don’t know they can claim asylum on the grounds of being LGBTQI,” says Zadeh.

In the last few years, the situation for asylum seekers has gotten much worse. The Illegal Migration Act means that thousands more people will be locked up in immigration detention, in some cases indefinitely. The detention centres are frequently unsafe for LGBTQ+ people, and many experience bullying, harassment, abuse and violence. “Many LGBTQ+ asylum seekers feel discriminated against by the system,” says Adeniyi Balogun, who works for African Rainbow Families, an organisation that helps LGBTQ+ asylum seekers and refugees of African heritage. “Their pronouns are not respected, they are misgendered, there is no sensitivity given towards their gender identity or sexual orientation.”

Below, we speak with three LGBTQ+ asylum seekers about their experiences within the asylum system.


“I didn’t come out as trans in Saudi because I would be killed by my family. I travelled to Britain on a tourist visa in 2021 and claimed asylum straight away at the airport. After two years of waiting, I finally got the right to remain three months ago. 

“I was placed in the hotel system for two years, being moved around between different locations. Throughout the time I was waiting for the decision, I wasn’t allowed to work, and had to live off eight to ten pounds a week. During this period I attempted suicide three times, because I was waiting and waiting for something that I didn’t know was going to happen – I didn’t know whether they would give me the right to remain or send be back to Saudi. 

If there’s one thing I’d like people to understand it’s that, if I had the choice, I wouldn’t be an asylum seeker” – Ryan

“Like many others, I experienced transphobic abuse in one of the hotels. When I tried to speak to the staff about it, I had to wait for a week to be moved. On a separate occasion, they moved me from a hotel to a shared house. They knew that I’m a trans man, but they gave me a shared room with a female, so I didn’t take it, and stayed homeless for a few days.

“If there’s one thing I’d like people to understand it’s that, if I had the choice, I wouldn’t be an asylum seeker. I would also like to mention a friend of mine, who was an LGBTQ+ asylum seeker from Oman. On the first of September this year, she took her own life. She had been waiting in the hotel for over a year without having an interview. 

“I’m doing better now that I have the right to remain. I don't want to take my own life anymore. But still, it’s not easy, because I’m still trying to heal myself from all the time I spent waiting for a decision.”


“India is a very institutionally transphobic country, the society is very patriarchal, and trans people are treated like second-class citizens. As a trans woman, I would absolutely be at risk of physical violence there. There are no active safeguards which protect you: In fact, the law encourages violence, because there are provisions in Indian law which say that if a trans woman is sexually assaulted, the perpetrator will receive a lesser penalty compared to someone who sexually assaults a cisgender woman. 

“But it’s not just institutional transphobia, it’s my own family. I grew up in an abusive household where any hint of femininity was met with violence, and when I came out as trans this became even worse. My family continues to be a threat to my safety and wellbeing. And if they kicked me out, which would be the best-case scenario, who would employ me as a trans woman, who would shelter me?  In India, trans people are discriminated against when it comes to renting and employment.

“When it came to my second screening interview, it seemed like the entire purpose was to catch me out and to invent scenarios in which I was lying. They kept accusing me of hiding my intentions” – Lorelai

“I came to Scotland as a student, and it was only after I was already here that I realised I could claim asylum. When it came to my second screening interview, it seemed like the entire purpose was to catch me out and to invent scenarios in which I was lying. They kept accusing me of hiding my intentions, saying ‘you came here as a student but the whole time you were just scheming to claim asylum’, which wasn’t true! Yes, I came here to escape a transphobic society and yes, I wanted to build a life through education, but when I told this to the person doing the interview, she did not understand it at all. She said that I had committed ‘verbal deception’ and because of that, they took away my right to work.

“Last December, they denied my application, on the basis that I could simply relocate to somewhere else in India or apply for institutional support, which ignores everything I had said. I am now appealing this decision, but it’s difficult because I am no longer eligible for legal aid. Because I am still barred from working, I have now set up a GoFundMe to aid my transition.”


“Suella Braverman clearly doesn’t know or care what we’ve been through, and how our lives became hell in our countries. In Pakistan, there are laws against LGBTQ+ and transgender people: you can end up in prison for up to ten years. There are a lot of religious extremists who are also against LGBTQ+ people; they’ve been running a massive campaign against us which has made the situation even worse. 

“I was born and raised in an educated family and they never hit me, my older brother was very protective of me. But I received so much hate from other people in society – every day there was a new trauma.  Around 2016, I was studying filmmaking and working as a freelancer, when I got a job offer to do videography at a conference. But I realised that the people organising it were running a massive campaign against both cis and trans women, so I turned down the offer. And that’s when they started threatening me. When they discovered I was trans they became even worse, and started threatening my brother as well. I left home for a short time, and my brother was so protective; he didn’t even tell me how they were harassing him and attacking our house. Then one day I heard the news that they had killed him. Every single part of his body was broken. 

“We didn’t come here to get anything, I was more rich in my country – why would anyone choose to be an asylum seeker living off six pounds a day?”

“Three months later, my mum was diagnosed with cancer. When I tried to bring her to hospital, the doctors told me that they had received a warning call from the Ministry of Health telling them they were not allowed to treat the mother of a trans woman. I received threatening calls telling me I couldn’t visit her in the hospital because they would kill me. They denied her treatment, left her to die, and then wouldn’t even let me attend her funeral. 

“Last month, in September, I was finally granted the right to remain in Britain, but I first had to wait two years in the hotel system, where there is consideration given to LGBTQ+ people. The staff don’t have any specific training and a lot of the time they even made fun of us. During that time, I was not allowed to work or to enter into higher education.

“[This government] needs to grow up and show some compassion towards a marginalised minority. We didn’t come here to get anything, I was more rich in my country – why would anyone choose to be an asylum seeker living off six pounds a day?”

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