Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Mon, Mar 2nd, 2015

HBTQI asylum seekers and newcomers – the other side of the story

Reception varies from one place to another, but it is well-known that asylum seeking HBTQI individuals do not receive tailored information nor is information from the Swedish Migration Board offered in languages they can understand. At “Newcomers”, we often hear our members complaining about the interviews they undergo as they usually lack proper interpretation services as well as a vocabulary including HBTQI related concepts.

Medical care

Their health is not a priority. Medical investigations cover only physical tests, but no evaluations are conducted for mental conditions. We find extremely problematic underlying implications and shortcomings concerning cases where “medical care cannot be postponed”. Asylum seeking HBTQI individuals that arrive from countries where they have been subject to violence, trauma and depression as a result of victimization are not offered psychological support as their case is not considered urgent.

The right to “urgent care“ depends on resources, power structures and the conditions under which the individual is living. According to our members it is difficult to seek and obtain medical care, mostly because of the lack of information on what kind of services they are entitled to. The cases of transsexual asylum seekers that are in need of medical care and support in relation to identity reinforcement, gender investigation and revaluation are not considered urgent despite repeated suicide attempts. This also applies to the prescription of hormones and medical revaluation. However, we believe that the right of our transgender members to live in the body that they consider reflects their true identity is certainly an urgent matter.

Migration

When asylum seeking HBTQI individuals come in contact with the Swedish Migration Board they are not referred to any HBTQI organizations nor are they granted a public counsel with sufficient expertise and experience in matters concerning global asylum and HBTQI related issues.

It is common that they are expelled to countries where they risk getting killed. During only the first week of February, five applications belonging to HBTQI individuals were rejected. There are cases where asylum seeking HBTQI individuals have entered Sweden through life-threatening routes. Because of having registered in EU countries that do not recognize HBTQI as valid grounds for asylum they, consequently, do not receive proper administrative support once they arrive in Sweden either and are instead expelled to countries like Poland and Italy where the situation of the HBTQI community is even more exposed. Many of our members are forced to hide in Sweden, which is a country where everyone is supposed to be treated according to their needs and where the rights of HBTQI individuals are meant to be respected. Obviously immigrants and asylum seekers are not entitled of respect.

“Newcomers” hence attempts to initiate a dialogue with the Swedish Migration Board in order to improve the situation and to grant asylum seeking HBTQI individuals better accommodation. The Swedish Migration Board routinely transfers foreign HBTQI individuals to remote towns and villages where even their Swedish counterparts are discriminated. They are placed in areas far from any RFSL department and where transportation services are either lacking or expensive. They also tend to share their accommodation with other asylum seekers that often tend to be homophobic. Transgendered individuals are offered accommodation depending on their juridical gender and not the gender they identify with. They are often harassed and subject to harsh social sanctions within their shared accommodations. When they arrive in Sweden they are placed in small rooms with the homophobes that they initially escaped from. The Swedish Migration Board, however, argues that “everyone should be treated equally and we do not consider that a special accommodation for HBTQI people is necessary, otherwise we would have to take into account different religions and preferences”.

The head of the Swedish Migration Board hence fails to realize that asylum seeking HBTQI individuals differ from the average asylum seeker. The reason why they seek asylum does not depend on war and conflicts or other political motives but on their right to decide over their own body and identity as well as their right to protection from homophobia, transphobia and patriarchal structures. It is rather structural factors such as heteronormativity and oppression that cause these persons to long for a better life.

Swedish migration policy suffers from severe shortcomings with regards to HBTQI individuals. Cases are judged depending on the level of awareness of homophobia, heteronormativity and the norm of whiteness among the staff. This also affects whether or not the HBTQI individual is perceived as trustworthy. The idea of how homosexuals are supposed to “look” and “act” are steeped in Western, stereotypical images where a “real gay must be feminine” and a “lesbian must be masculine”. Gender neutral and bisexual identities are, in no way, included in the calculation of entitlement to protection from homophobia or heteronormativity. Sexual orientation is confused with sexual practices which cause bisexuals or transgender individuals not to qualify for asylum as they are either considered dishonest or heterosexual.

The statement of the head of the Swedish Migration Board – where he argued that HBTQI individuals must be treated in ways similar and equal to the general population – is quite alarming and signals that the authority is rather ignorant and unknowing of issues concerning the HBTQI community.

HBTQI individuals are exposed to homophobia and discrimination on a daily basis; we cannot be treated in ways similar to the rest of the population because we are not part of the heterosexual norm. This should pose as a valid argument for asylum seeking HBTQI individuals in Sweden as well as induce measures to be taken in order to protect these individuals rather than expose them even more to oppression and discrimination.

The situation of HBTQI individuals in many countries – including Sweden – is affected by the heterosexual norm and therefore requires an analysis where equality argumentations must be contrasted in relation to the conditions under which HBTQI individuals are living. There are invisible structures that give rise as well contribute to discrimination by those who do conform to the norm of heterosexuality. This is the case everywhere although the degree of discrimination varies depending on the country.

Housing and social activities

Furthermore, the housing situation is unsustainable; there is no safety and no efforts are made in order to strengthen the HBTQI identity and increase societal respect towards this group. In addition, there are no arrangements of social activities or venues meant to gather the members of the HBTQI community.

During the process of asylum seeking, HBTQI individuals are affected negatively by the lack of knowledge of the Swedish Migration Board. Despite that the staff may be aware of the fact that HBTQI individuals often suffer from suicidal thoughts, isolation, homelessness, and lack of confidence and employment no measures are taken in order to counter these issues nor are organizations that engage in combating such self-destructive behavioural patterns offered any support.

Many newcomers do not go to school because they are victims of homophobia. The learning process is influenced by fear, mental illness and discrimination. SFI (Swedish for Immigrants) classes lack a free zone where HBTQI individuals may feel safe and respected as well as escape harassment.

 

Who we are and what we do

“Newcomers” is working to change and improve the situation for individuals that seek refuge and protection because of their sexual orientation. We do this by making use of our social networks in order to establish contacts and encourage people to help and support those in need. We collect money for SL cards (travel cards), rent and the cost of travel to other parts of the country where interviews for asylum seekers are sometimes conducted.

Our work is completely dependent on donations and benevolence. Our aim is to initiate a dialogue and raise awareness of the discriminatory asylum process concerning HBTQI individuals in Sweden. We also aim to establish more branches around the country.

We have created a working strategy based on four important factors:

  • Education: we have invested in finding Swedish language teachers who are willing to give classes twice a week (Monday 5 – 6 pm and Thursday 6 – 8 pm).
  • Venues and social activities: we organize workshops on social studies, health and legal advice and we visit museums and various authorities each Wednesday from 6 – 8 pm.
  • Mental and physical health: we coordinate climbing activities each Tuesday at noon as well as free-style dance classes each Friday from 6 – 7 pm.
  • Empowerment and political influence: we host panel discussion where we invite other asylum seekers to talk about their experiences. Every year during Pride Week, we coordinate an “Asylum Forum” concerning asylum and HBTQI related issues. We have also organized workshops where visual art is used as a method to capture the stories of the newcomers’ experiences of asylum seeking and their life situation. We also offer piano lessons each Sunday from 6 – 8 pm.

How to improve Swedish migration policy

The competence of the Swedish Migration Board concerning HBTQI issues must be improved. Their lack of knowledge is causing asylum seeking HBTQI individuals to be expelled to countries where they risk torture, social exclusion, marginalization and death. Wrong decisions are taken as they are not believed to truly have a different sexual orientation.

Concrete measures

  • Improve the housing situation for HBTQI individuals
  • Mental and physical health of transgender individuals must be considered a valid grounds for “urgent health care”
  • Improved information in various languages regarding HIV prevention
  • SFI classes conducted in a safe environment
  • Social activities and empowerment programs meant to counter internalized homophobia and low self-esteem


 

About the Author

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these html tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>