Are you queer enough? 3 stories of LGBT+ Refugees in Germany

6 minutes read

*Trigger warning for homophobic slurs and descriptions of violence

In over 70 countries around the world, people can be punished, persecuted or killed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

LGBT+ refugees are fleeing countries where they have to hide their sexual orientation and gender identity out of fear for their safety and lives. 

Germany has the highest number of asylum applications in Europe. But for many, arrival in Germany does not automatically mean the end of discrimination. They still often face considerable challenges even once they have succeeded in fleeing.  

LGBT+ refugees experience challenges during their asylum procedures like homophobia and transphobia from their assigned asylum officers or case translators which end up sending them right back into danger. They must rely heavily on the help of organizations that provide free legal aid to support them.

And even if they receive  protection status, they often lack support from their diaspora community and the immigration system. They find themselves with no choice but to go back into the closet, hiding their sexual orientation, this time in a foreign country and with no trusted friends.

Here are three stories of LGBT+ Refugees and their experience in Germany. 

Khaled, from Egypt

I fled for my life all the way to Germany from my hometown in Egypt. I had made it. All I needed was to get through the asylum hearing. But it could not have been a worse experience. 

My assigned translator kept calling me a “fag" In front of the asylum officers. Then one asylum officer said I would be sent home very soon. He even threatened to tell the police in Egypt that I applied for asylum. All this in a hearing room that was deciding my fate and my future.

Because I don't speak German, I didn’t understand until later what was said. But I could feel the room growing hostile. I was scared for my life. As a known LGBT+ activist, there was no way I could go back to Egypt – but I didn't know what else to do.

Thankfully, I was contacted by Homosexuelle Selbsthilfe (HS), an LGBT+ rights organization that helps refugees like me in Germany. Because of a fundraiser they had run with All Out in 2017, they were able to provide me with free and safe help with my asylum case. 

We were able to prove in front of a judge that I was sabotaged by a homophobic translator and an officer who actively didn’t believe me and that my application was valid.

My claim was accepted by the court and I didn't have to go back to Egypt. I truly believe this saved my life. I was even able to help others by volunteering for a refugee organization in my new hometown.

But I'm not alone. So many LGBT+ refugees face homophobia and transphobia in their asylum processes. On top of it all, Germany is overburdened with asylum requests and there are many cases just like mine, forced to wait in uncertainty for months.

Tonya, from Ethiopia

I grew up in one of the biggest cities in Ethiopia. After school, I was cleaning houses in a wealthy neighborhood. It was there that fell in love with one of the other girls in the cleaning crew. 

But it is illegal to be gay or lesbian in Ethiopia and eventually we were “caught” by our boss. She beat us and told our parents. There were also threats of reporting us to the authorities.

My mom took me out of school, trapping me at home, and performing violent “exorcisms” on me. When the “exorcisms” didn't work, she kicked me out of our home and hired a human trafficker to take me far away.

I found myself in Europe and managed to escape my trafficker. I eventually made it on my own to Germany. Finally, I thought I was safe. 

But throughout my asylum process, I encountered homophobia and racism from the authorities here. I thought I was doomed and would be sent back to Ethiopia.

But thankfully, I had a guardian who contacted the HS LGBT+ rights organization that helps LGBT+ refugees like me in Germany. They had run a fundraiser with All Out in 2017 and were able to provide me with free and safe help with my asylum case.

I have been granted refugee status and am just waiting for my documents to be issued.

Now I’m able to start rebuilding my life here. I can visit queer youth events with my guardian. With lots of help, I am slowly healing and learning to accept and love myself.

Naemi, from Tunisia

My name is Naemi, and I was born and raised in Tunisia. In my country you can be sent to prison for up to three years for engaging in same-sex sexual activity. 

A few years ago, my family caught me kissing my girlfriend. They beat me and tried to force me to marry a man immediately. When I refused, they kicked me out. Then my girlfriend’s father reported me to the police.

They interrogated me and locked me up for two days. After my release, I was told I would have to face a court hearing. I knew what that meant. They were going to send me to jail because I’m a lesbian.  

I was so terrified and I had nowhere to go. So, I had to flee the country.

Eventually, I made it all the way to Germany, completely by myself. I thought I had finally found freedom. But I soon learned that the asylum process would be yet another battle for my life. 

Not only was I forced to re-live the trauma I had been through, but my plea for help was met with blatant homophobic disapproval from asylum officers and my assigned translator.

My first attempt at asylum was utterly horrifying. When I was asked about the abuse and threats I had experienced in Tunisia, my assigned translator kept insulting me and would not let me finish speaking.

He clearly disapproved of what I had to say and even insulted me several times during the interview. But I was the only one in the room who could understand the horrible things he was saying to me.

I was so intimidated I could barely speak. As a result, my asylum application was rejected. I was so afraid I’d have to go back to Tunisia. 

But because of the miraculous help of an LGBT-friendly lawyer, I was able to take over my case and appeal the decision. Finally, after a two-year battle, I was granted asylum in Germany. 

Now I have a job, and I am rebuilding my life here. I’m learning German and have found my own home and community here, where I finally feel safe.

*All names have been changed for the safety of the individuals


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