LGBT*I*Q Refugees in Germany

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Ahmed Awadalla is a writer and activist who has worked on issues of health, sexuality, gender and forced migration in Egypt and Germany. He is currently based in Berlin. Iris Rajanayagam works amongst others on issues of postcolonial theorie with a focus on colonial continuities in German/European asylum and migration policies, intersectionality, as well as anti-racist and anti-discriminatory theory and praxis. She teaches at the Alice-Salomon-University of Applied Science in the module „Racism and Migration“ and is part of the editing team of the magazine „Leben nach Migration“ („Life after Migration) published by the Migration Council Berlin‐Brandenburg (MRBB e.V.).

The Situation of lesbian, gay, bi-, trans- and intersexual people as well as queers, who flee their home countries and seek asylum in Germany is not very common. The authors describe about the Situation of LGBT*I*Q Refugees in Germany.

By Iris Rajanayagam and Ahmed Awadalla 


One reason why LGBT*I*Q, that is, lesbian, gay, bi-, trans- and intersexual people as well as queers, flee their home countries and seek asylum somewhere else, in this case Germany, is that they are discriminated and/or persecuted due to their gender identity or sexual orientation. This is a fact that cannot be denied. What needs to highlighted in this context nevertheless is the historical and political context of anti-queer thinking and policies in certain countries, and to reflect on the ways Germany is responding to the needs and rights of people seeking asylum on these grounds.

Homophobia and transphobia are global phenomena that are being faced around the world, whether in Europe, or in countries in the global south. However, in certain parts of the world, homophobia and transphobia are codified into legal and social structures, and present significant barriers to a safe and healthy life, exposing them to serious risks. LGBT*I*Q refugees come to Germany from all different regions of the world including the Middle East, Africa, Asia. A particularly visible number is coming from African and Arab countries in addition to Russia. It's obvious that people have to flee for complicated reasons based on the individual experiences they face in their societies. According to 76 Crimes Blog, around 79 countries have “antigay” laws. A large number of these countries have antigay laws as part of their colonial heritage. During colonization, conservative Western morality values were imposed on the 'natives'. Christian missionaries also played and continue to play a significant role in importing homophobic attitudes, which is evident in countries such as Uganda.[1]

What one must also not forget in this context is the fact that anti-queer mentalities and behaviour and discrimination due to sexual orientation and gender identity do also very much occur in Germany. This is a circumstance that is keenly forgotten and/or neglected in debates about homophobia in African and Muslim/Arab countries.

The situation of LGBT*I*Q Refugees in Germany 

We would like to begin with outlining the structural and institutional difficulties Refugees and specifically LGBT*I*Q Refugees are facing after arriving in Germany and while applying for asylum.

There are currently no statistics about the numbers of people requesting asylum based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Whether or not the authorities keep records or interested in such statistical information is not clear. It is also important to note that “queer refugees” are not a homogeneous group and have different situations and needs based on their particular individual situations.

When the asylum process begins, the applicant receives accommodation, basic financial support and health insurance. A crucial decision is made once an asylum application is submitted; that is where in Germany the person stays. The official caseworker makes a decision on which state and which accommodation where the person would live. Queer refugees prefer to live in bigger cities to avoid visibility and to achieve the safety and freedom they escaped for. This is not always considered by caseworkers, who may believe that an LGBT*I*Q person could live equally safe anywhere in Germany. Furthermore, a large number of queer refugees report that they are not comfortable to disclose their SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) status on first encounter with the authorities for various reasons. One of these factors is the lack of private spaces while these conversations take place. Also due to homo- or transphobic attitudes of some interpreters who lack basic training on dealing with SOGI issues.

Once transferred to a refugee accommodation, queer refugees may face discrimination or harassment. Persons who don't conform to typical gender roles are usually more affected by this. This issue cannot separated from the general problem of those refugee accommodations being places where no privacy can be achieved, and that the residents there suffer from isolation and frustration for the residents there, as they have to wait up to years not knowing their future in the asylum, creating tension and aggression, which more marginalized minorities can fall victim to. 

1. On the asylum process in Germany

One of the first contact points for Refugees, when arriving in Berlin is the LAGeSo (Landesamt für Gesundheit und Soziales/Central Department for Health and Social Issues). This is where asylum seekers register themselves and are assigned to accommodation. The situation here has been intolerable for more than a year now, people having to wait in queues up to days. Including children, sick people and pregnant women and/or with newborns. In the colder months of January and February, cases of frozen fingers and toes were reported.

Due to the large number of people, the lack of space and separate lines for women, trans*, inter* and queer, many cases of harassment were reported. This did not however prompt the officials responsible to react swiftly and introduce separate lines. It was only recently that a system was introduced that lets LGBT*I*Q asylum seekers receive support through Caritas to facilitate their encounters with the authorities, which also happen to asylum seekers with special vulnerabilities such as pregnant women or people who have health situations that prevent them from the regular draining process and waiting times. 

Many refugees also complained about harassment by the officials and security staff when registering, as well as sloppiness when it came to administering and dealing with records and documents, which led to the loss of records greatly detrimental to those affected. 

In Berlin refugees obtain health certificates valid to be renewed every three months which covers only "acute and painful conditions". This “Krankenschein” system causes delays and confusion in accessing healthcare services. This is more evident in accessing mental health services such as psychotherapy for asylum seekers. It also presents a barrier to accessing hormone treatment for transgender persons, which is not always considered an urgent need. While HIV treatment is covered, delays in accessing treatment puts the health and wellbeing of asylum seekers at significant risk. Asylum seekers without documents (sans papiers) face an extra burden in accessing healthcare. 

Waiting for an interview at the Bundesamt for Migration and Flüchtlinge may take between a few months and a few years. Normally, asylum seekers are not allowed to pursue studies or work at this period. Recent initiatives are trying to address this dire situation that only furthers the marginalization and frustration experienced by refugees. There are numerous reports of asylum seekers being asked intrusive questions regarding their sexuality despite a recent EU court ban on performing "gay tests". Many refugees ironically try to find a psychologist to provide a letter proving their SOGI status. 

Another form of violence that especially LGBT*I*Q and women refugees are affected by is, as briefly metioned above harassment in the lagers and emergency shelters they are forced to live in. Due to the lack of privacy and space as well as no separate and safe areas for LGBT*I*Q in most lagers (shared bathrooms,  one kitchen for several people and families) harassment and especially sexual harassment are very common in this type of “accommodation”. This is also the case for sexual harassment from the staff working in the lagers and the security personnel. Above this the minimum standards set for lager accommodation are very often not met. Both harassment by staff and the lack of minimum standards can be traced back on the one hand to a lack of control of the lagers, often privately and not stated owned but also to a policy of deterrence for further potential Refugees wanting to come to Germany.

Besides this, retraumatisation also occurs again and again in everyday life in which Refugees face racial discrimination, exclusion and attacks on a daily basis. The latest horrifying example being that in the towns East-German towns Claußnitz and Bautzen[2], LGBT*I*Q refugees similar to women refugees are confronted with discrimination and exclusion that is more complex in the sense that they are faced with multidimensional discrimination due to gender identity, sexual orientation etc. One recent example is when a young Syrian lesbian refugee was assigned to a camp in Eisenhüttenstadt in Brandenburg where she faced sexual harassment from residents in the camp and was also scared to leave the camp because Nazis were assaulting refugees in the area around the camp.

2.   Instrumentalisation 

In addition to the different forms of marginalization queer refugees experience, there are discourses and debates emerging, that exploit their suffering, which constitutes a form of instrumentalising of their struggles. It is an instrumentalisation that allows the use of pseudo support for LGBT*I*Q rights to legitimize the dissemination and exponentiation of racist stereotypes towards the Black/ of Colour and/or Muslim man, society, nation etc. Often a one-sided focus is layed on homo- and transphobia that occurs in African, Asian and Middle Eastern regions without putting this into an historical or political context. At the same time the fact the discrimination and violence against queer, trans* and inter* is also a problem stemming from a white German population is concealed. This line of discourse that is also employed by some mainstream LGBT organisations facilitate the racist dichotomy of “the civilised, progressive white western world vs. the barbaric, patriarchal and homophobic ‘other’”.[3]

Incidents of violence against queer refugees have been receiving extensive media coverage. These reports and news usually focus only on the struggles faced by queer refugees at the hands of other "migrants", for example at the hands of the fellow residents of refugee camps, which ignores the incidents of homophobia and transphobia that occur due to the asylum system itself. This pattern of instrumentalising in the name of gender and sexuality rights is not uncommon. We were able to observe the same pattern in the wake of the Cologne incidents[4], where waves of racist rhetoric were employed against migrants and refugees in the name of women's rights.[5] This is not to downplay the importance of defending women's rights and the struggles of LGBT*I*Q community, but those struggles cannot be exploited to achieve racist anti-migrant agendas.

A further problem we find when analysing the support structures of white Germans in regard to LGBT*I*Q asylum seekers and their struggle is the paternalistic approach, which is very often taken.

The Topic “Queer Refugees” has only recently become very present in German media. Many white leftist groups and organisations have followed suit. We can see that a lot of initiatives are being organized to help and support refugees, which is a good step forward to make up for the many gaps and flaws that exist in the asylum system. However, these initiatives should always ensure that they are considering the viewpoints and the actual needs of refugees during the process of developing the concepts and implementing these initiatives. Otherwise, these initiatives can reproduce problematic behaviours and not contribute to empowering refugees and allowing them to achieve independence and full dignity.

In a similar vein, there are initiatives, who are outright exploiting the name of queer refugees. A recent incident took place where a queer club organized a fundraising party for the benefit of queer refugees, but failed to organize any support for the refugees to enter the party, which led to a lesbian refugee to be turned out at the door.  

3. Perspectives 

Despite and because of the antagonist and discriminatory situation most Queer Refugees find themselves in  Germany, self-organisation in this context is on the upraise. More and more Queer Refugees are building national and transnational networks to resist against the colonial, racist and patriarchal system they are faced with here. The form of resistance or of sending out political statements in this case can take on very many different shapes ranging from “on the road” political organisation and activism, publications, cultural interventions etc. Queer Refugees reject being victimised, instrumentalised and objectified. Self-organisation, autonomy and power of definition are three elements that are essential in the struggle and a precondition for any forms of solidarity from the white German left.  


[1]          Cf. Documentary „God Loves Uganda“ (2013) Producer and Director Roger Ross Williamsand Kalende, Val: „Africa: Homophobia is a Legacy of Colonialism“. In: The Guardian Online http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/30/africa-homophobia-legacy-colonialism Retrieved: 9th March 2016

[2]          Cf. „Polizei rabiat gegen Asylbewerber, rechter Mob darf weiterhetzen“ In: Migazin. Migration in Germany. http://www.migazin.de/2016/02/22/asylheim-leiter-afd-mitglied-rechter/ Retrieved 7th March 2016.

[3]          Cf. Attia Iman (2009): „Die 'westliche Kultur' und ihr Anderes: Zur Dekonstruktion von Orientalismus und antimuslimischen Rassismus. Tanscript Verlag. Bielefeld.

[4]          Cf. Yaghoobifarah, Hengameh „Willkommen in der Hölle Ladys.“ In Taz.de. http://www.taz.de/!5263311/  Retrieved: 8th March 2016

[5]          Cf. Coverstory Emma. Edition Nov/Dec. 2015 „Wir helfen Flüchtlingen aber die Frauenrechte dürfen nicht auf der Strecke bleiben“ http://www.emma.de/ausgabe/emma-ausgabe-novemberdezember-2015-330739 Retrieved: 9th March 2016. 


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