1 Introduction

In this chapter, we look at the experiences of SOGI minorities who are claiming asylum or who have reached the end of the asylum process in relation to health, work and education. We define these three spheres broadly, including, for example, volunteering and impacts from having experienced sexual violence torture, as well as sex work. Ostensibly, LGBTIQ+ asylum claimants experience the same difficulties in applying for work and accessing health and education as most other asylum claimants. In reality, this is not always the case. Here, referring back to our theoretical underpinnings, including intersectionality, highlights some particular areas of need, in many cases relating to the discrimination they encounter on the basis of SOGI in addition to other characteristics. As with the previous chapter, we again show that SOGI minorities encounter particular problems outside the legal asylum process as well as within it.

To provide some context, we first briefly outline the international legal framework relating to the needs and entitlements discussed in this chapter, developing the contours of international protection that were identified in Chap. 4. While the 1951 Refugee Convention defines employment and educational entitlements for refugees (Articles 17–19 and 22), it does not address the rights of individuals while their claim is being assessed. Here, the main reference is the recast 2011 Reception Directive and in the case of the UK, the 2003 Reception Directive, underpinned by the ECHR and the CFR, as well as other international human rights treaties and domestic laws, all of which may complement or exist in tension or conflict with one another (Chap. 4).

During the period that individuals are claiming asylum, the recast Reception Directive requires member states to: provide education to children in line with that of nationals (Article 14); grant access to employment within nine months from the date of application for protection with some qualifications, including that member states may prioritise citizens and nationals (Article 15); and offer emergency healthcare and treatment for ‘serious mental disorders’ (Article 19). General provisions also require member states to consider the specific needs of vulnerable persons, including those ‘who have been subjected to torture, rape or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence…’ (Article 21), and to assess whether claimants have such ‘special reception needs’ (Article 22) (Chap. 5).

While all three of our case study countries have some version of a welfare state system (Ferrera et al. 2013; Kennett and Lendvai-Bainton 2017), they also all have legislation and regulations in place controlling access to healthcare, employment and further education based on immigration status (European Commission2020). Full discussion of these is beyond the scope of this chapter, although some details will be mentioned below. However, it is important to keep sight of the fundamental rights relating to health, employment and education under the ECHR and wider IHRL that all individuals are entitled to on a non-discriminatory basis (UNHCR2020). We emphasise this universality precisely because of the failure to apply ‘every day’ human rights instruments to asylum claimants and refugees. Indeed, there are many international instruments that do not distinguish between citizens, nationals, asylum claimants and refugees and, when considering access to health, work and education, these need to be better recognised and vindicated.

In Sect. 9.2, we discuss health, beginning with access to healthcare and continuing to consider access to specialist treatment, where the needs of transgender people were clearly a particular concern, as well as those with HIV support requirements. The following Section addresses sexual violence and torture, and their impact on SOGI minorities. We then identify some of the specific mental health issues that we heard about from our participants. Section 9.3 discusses work and defines it broadly to include voluntary work and community involvement (Section 9.3.2) as well as sex work and the sexual exploitation some of our participants experienced (Section 9.3.3). We also look at other kinds of exploitation that our participants encountered. The chapter concludes with a short discussion about education and training where there were relatively few SOGI-specific concerns compared to other areas.

2 Physical and Mental Health

2.1 Access to Healthcare

We begin by considering the access to basic health care by SOGI minorities claiming asylum which, of course, is the same as that of any claimant. Health entitlements for asylum claimants and refugees vary between and within the countries under comparison.

In Germany, asylum claimants have only restricted access to healthcare, defined as ‘necessary medical and dental treatment’ for ‘acute illnesses and pain conditions’.Footnote 1 As the law is not clearly defined, health professionals and local authorities have some leeway; however, the main obstacle is the need for asylum claimants in many municipalities, but not all, to secure a health insurance voucher – ‘Krankenschein’ – from social welfare offices, something that is difficult for people accommodated in rural areas. Those without a voucher are likely to encounter delays in health provision, and may even be refused treatment (ECRE, AIDA & Asyl und Migration 2019, pp. 85–86). In Italy, asylum claimants and beneficiaries of international protection must register with the National Health Service and should then enjoy the same treatment as Italian citizens. On registration, asylum claimants receive a European Health Insurance Card, but delays and obstacles to issuing this have been aggravated by the 2018 asylum reform (ECRE, AIDA & ASGI 2019, p. 104). In the UK, asylum claimants are entitled to register with a medical General Practitioner (GP) and receive free hospital treatment; however, individuals often experience difficulty in accessing these healthcare entitlements (ECRE, AIDA & Refugee Council 2019, pp. 74–75; EHRC 2019).

Reception service-providers may be charged with responsibility for informing asylum claimants about their health entitlements and putting them in contact with doctors and other health services. This form of support also took place in the CAS and SPRAR centres in Italy, prior to the reforms restricting access to healthcare beneficiaries of international protection (ECRE, AIDA & ASGI 2019, p. 80). In the UK, the companies contracted to provide accommodation for asylum claimants (Serco, Mears Group and Clearsprings) are also responsible for supporting individuals through the asylum system, including explaining how to register with a local doctor and access other National Health Service (NHS) treatment (ECRE, AIDA & Refugee Council 2019, p. 58).

Nonetheless, in all three countries under comparison, access to healthcare is reported as inconsistent from one location to another. In Germany, there is a health insurance card scheme but it has only been implemented in some municipalities (ECRE, AIDA & Asyl und Migration 2019, p. 85). In Italy, practices vary throughout the country and from one reception centre to another; for example, exemptions from medical charges are reportedly not applied in Lazio, Veneto and Tuscany in the same way as in Piedmont and Lombardy (ECRE, AIDA & ASGI 2019, p. 105). In the UK, charges for those without leave to remain were introduced in April 2015 (ECRE, AIDA & Refugee Council 2019, pp. 75–76). Not only does the UK government’s policy of dispersal of asylum claimants disrupt continuity in healthcare (EHRC 2019, p. 7), but there are also national differences: in Scotland, all asylum claimants, including those whose claims have been refused, are entitled to full free healthcare, while in England, free hospital treatment is theoretically not available to asylum claimants who are not receiving benefits (Piwowarczyk et al. 2017).

In all countries under comparison, regional differences, language barriers, repeated changes in entitlements and lack of awareness by both providers and receivers of healthcare are reasons why many refugees and asylum claimants are unable to access the healthcare they need, particularly given that asylum claimants often experience poverty to a degree that damages their health (EHRC 2018). Yet, SOGI minority individuals face some particular obstacles. There is not as much understanding of these obstacles as is needed – research on the physical and mental health of SOGI minorities rarely addresses asylum, while research on the health of migrants and refugees rarely covers SOGI issues (Ohonba 2017, p. 1; Piwowarczyk et al. 2017, p. 724).

In a rare piece of research concentrating on the health of SOGI asylum claimants, the UNHCR identified ‘(p)rejudicial health care and lack of access to HIV prevention and treatment’ as particular concerns, and also pointed out that ‘(t)ransgender individuals often do not have access to the treatment they need, including transition-related care’ (UNHCR2013, p. 4). The particular problems in the area of health for SOGI claimants that arose in our research related to: trans people’s healthcare needs (Sect. 9.2.2); torture diagnosis and treatment (Sect. 9.2.3); and mental health (Sect. 9.2.4). While torture, sexual violence and mental health problems are not unique to people from SOGI minorities seeking asylum, they were experienced in a particular way by our participants. HIV status was also a factor highlighted by participants, though not necessarily in the context of lack of provision in the host country.

2.2 Access to Specialist Treatment

Problems of access to appropriate healthcare were most evident for transgender participants in our research, corresponding to reports by NGOs (Action for Trans Health2015). Delays in obtaining the documents necessary to access treatment are a particular problem for transgender people who may have started or wish to start regular hormone treatment. Furthermore, ‘[w]orryingly the immigration detention centre protocols do not explicitly mandate access to hormones and other transition related healthcare’ (Action for Trans Health2015). Transgender Europe also points out that:

Many trans refugees are likely to have already started HRT [hormone replacement therapy] before arriving in Europe, either under medical supervision or by self-medicating using hormones purchased through the black market. (…) Interrupting hormone intake can have serious consequences and is by definition a decision to be taken by the individual concerned, on medical advice. (…) The continuation of HRT and all necessary monitoring is therefore essential to ensure the health and wellbeing of trans asylum seekers and mitigate against the risks of self-medication (TGEU 2018).

In addition, and in particular for trans people who are detained in Immigration Removal Centres in the UK, there are often deficiencies in access and provision:

The protocol allows trans people in detention centres to wear wigs, packers, binders, and breast-forms. Unlike the protocol for UK prisoners, these do not have to be provided by the institution, so it is likely that many trans detainees will be forced to make do with makeshift equipment/prosthetics (Action for Trans Health2015).

Participants in all countries highlighted difficulties in access to and continuity of hormone treatment. In Germany, there are daunting complexities for trans people claiming asylum and trying to access treatment that is designed for German citizens. The provision of only basic healthcare is a ‘bitter’ problem for people who have had hormone treatment in their country of origin or transit and are unable to continue with it in Germany (Noah, NGO social worker). Furthermore, medical practitioners and NGO workers struggle to provide support in specialist areas, especially when there are also language and cultural barriers (Leon, NGO worker).

Even when individuals are granted refugee status, ‘it remains a common struggle to wrest these funds from the health insurance funds and find doctors who follow this path’ (Noah, NGO social worker). One individual, Bebars, was told by his doctor that health insurance would not continue to cover his hormone treatment, because he had not received sufficient psychotherapeutic care; he needed to see a psychotherapist for three months, otherwise he would need to pay for treatment himself. Surgery for gender reassignment is covered through health insurance only after completion of a year and a half of psychotherapy (Nina, legal advisor). People who had come to Germany via Turkey are often particularly affected:

They come here, they stop their hormone process. It is easy for them to have it in Turkey, you just directly go to the pharmacy. You can directly have your hormones. It’s not like here, where it’s a procedure. As a result of this and other reasons, we heard of people choosing to go back to Turkey (Ibrahim, Germany).

In Italy, access and cost were also concerns, as were regional variations. Whereas in Emilia Romagna treatment was free:

in Sicily, in Calabria, Naples, in Milan, they pay. Not only the ticket to visit and do the analysis, but also the hormones. And hormones are expensive! For example, if we talk about Nibido, which is a drug for testosterone, hormones that trans FtM take every three months, with the safety of the endocrinologist, I mean, it even reaches 150–200 euros! (Kamel, Italy).

As a result, Kamel, a transgender claimant, was no longer receiving the medical supervision he needed for hormone treatment, had heart problems and his weight had reached almost 100 kg. He pointed out that ‘[a] refugee who escaped from war or from any other country is stressed and suffers… he’s not a prince charming who comes with a bag full of money’.

Amber had started transitioning before she came to the UK:

and then for the whole two months when I was homeless, I couldn’t get any bridging hormones because my pills has run out. I didn’t bring enough, because I didn’t have time to get that from Malaysia before I fly. So the whole two months, I was really struggling on how to, what do I do, because I had no pills and my body is going backwards now. Because I made the decision to transition because it was either transitioning or, or I would kill myself.

GPs are advised to collaborate with a Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) to provide ‘effective and timely’ treatment for trans patients. They may provide bridging prescriptions, which are ‘intended to mitigate a risk of self-harm or suicide’ (General Medical Council 2020). However, in 2019 it was reported that ‘GPs are facing increasing difficulties addressing patient requests for “bridging” prescriptions, particularly for those patients who have self-started medication, including medication which they have procured over the internet’(General Medical Council 2020, p. 6). Trans asylum claimants are likely to feel the impact of this acutely, perhaps compounded by language and communication problems, disruptions in hormone treatment received in countries of passage, and dispersal to areas within the UK particularly lacking in expertise.

Amber’s experience exemplifies the difficulties caused by frequent relocation in conjunction with inconsistencies in GP support. As she explained: ‘You just have to hop [between] GPs if they aren’t helpful, because it’s up to them to prescribe this kind of hormones’. She had registered with a GP in Canterbury who had referred her to a Gender Identity Clinic (GIC), but she had not been prescribed any medication. Amber then moved to Croydon temporarily before moving on again to Essex, where she registered with another doctor. During this period, she had difficulty obtaining a prescription for bridging hormones and felt ‘really stressed out and frustrated about how I was treated’.

Because accessing NHS treatment had been difficult, Amber had been self-medicating with supplies from friends:

I know that self-medicating is not illegal but there are risks to it, but as long as you know what you’re taking and confident enough, which I am, go for it. I have some complications with it in the past, but I need to keep going as it’s good for my mental health and it alleviates my gender dysphoria massively.

Amber ended up resorting to private healthcare and explained she had been lucky enough to have friends willing to cover some of her medical costs. Registering with a private doctor cost Amber an initial set-up fee of GBP50, a monthly registration of GBP25, plus there were costs for prescribed medication. She was unable to afford initial counselling and, as she was already self-medicating, she knew what she wanted. Looking ahead, she was on the waiting list for treatment and intended to request removal of her Adam’s apple and full body laser hair removal. Breast augmentation would need to be done privately.

The common experience for trans people was of inconsistences in access and provision within and between countries, meaning that individuals were dependent on luck in finding individual doctors who would support them. Others resorted to non-regulated private sources and, for some, the lack of access to continuous hormone treatment caused them to leave the EU (as we heard from Ibrahim, UK; Ximena, UK; Jules, staff member at ILGA-Europe).

While a greater number of our participants shared with us problems relating to hormone treatment, we also talked to several individuals with an HIV diagnosis, for whom access to medical treatment was also a priority and a cause of anxiety. As Susan (focus group no. 3, Bavaria, Germany) explained:

I don’t have medicine, I don’t have anything. They told me I have to go to some doctor. I went to that doctor. Doctor wants insurance. I have to come back to the same doctor. That doctor told me I have to wait. HIV, I have to take medicine every day. Every day! I don’t have medicine, they told me I have to go. I walk, I walk, I walk… Whenever I go to the hospital they give me insurance for three months, so on 10th it’s going to be the last insurance, if the government does not put meds on me.

HIV status was also a factor in some individuals’ asylum claim. Diamond was studying hotel management in the UK and near completion of his course when he was diagnosed with HIV and found himself unable to cope with his studies:

But when I realised I am HIV [positive], I was scared because (…) I know now you need every six month or yearly to get a check-up what is your CD4 count viral and some point you need a medication even so what, definitely the doctors and the people will come to know [if I returned to my country of origin], so that is why I decided to claim asylum in UK, so at least I can get a right here and I can continue with my studies and even medication I can get it, without any problems. Back home that is a really very big problem.

However, this was not enough to eliminate his fears about his future: he told us that when he returned home from the group he would have daydreams about people killing or beating him and was unable to sleep at night. The impact of trauma on people’s mental health, including their ability to sleep, is something we look at again below.

2.3 Experiences of Sexual Violence and Torture

While statistics are not available, many asylum claimants experience sexual violence and torture as part of the experiences that lead to their flight. One study suggests that more than a quarter of ‘forced migrants’ in high-income countries are torture survivors (Sigvardsdotter et al. 2016, p. 47).Footnote 2 There is also evidence of higher rates of sexual trauma among SOGI asylum claimants (Alessi et al. 2016; Hopkinson et al. 2017; Reading and Rubin 2011). Similarly, one small-scale study found that of ‘the 61 LGBT asylum seekers identified, 66% had experienced sexual violence as part of their persecution history’ and there was a significantly higher incidence of suicidality among this group (Hopkinson et al. 2017, p. 1658). If torture is defined as broadly as it should be under Article 3 ECHR jurisprudence, then we would argue that many more individuals from SOGI minorities claiming asylum should be recognised as having experienced torture or the threat of torture in the form of rape and other forms of sexual violence, beatings or in other ways than is the present case.

Our findings confirm this body of literature. One survey respondent in Germany reported that ‘[m]y front teeth and right arm were broken and they hurt time to time’ (C55). We heard about individuals surviving mock executions (Frank S., legal advisor, Germany). In Italy, NGO workers and volunteers have worked with children who had been raped (Chiara, NGO worker). In the UK, one participant told us he ‘thanked God’ that he had marks on his body from torture, as they had been the basis for a doctor providing verification of his trauma (focus group no. 1, Manchester, UK). The degrading expectation that asylum claimants display their scars to show credibility has already been discussed (Chap. 7).

While many asylum claimants experience torture, it came up repeatedly as part of SOGI asylum claimants’ reasons for flight (Chap. 5). A policy worker with a mainstream refugee agency in the UK, when asked about the specific needs and experiences of SOGI asylum claimants, said: ‘maybe more people claiming on those grounds [have] experienced sexual violence and torture’ (Eleanor, NGO worker).

Lesbian, bisexual and trans women claiming asylum and with refugee status in the UK told us of being raped, sometimes by family members:

[T]he whole community is mocking me, talking about me, you know, and some girls were even saying what kind of, because, everybody expects that when you get to a certain age as a girl you get married to man. So they would always mock me, like, what kind of man is going to want a girl that has been, you know, damaged by her father. You know, and I was 13, for crying out loud (Stephina, UK).

A trans woman told us of being sexually abused by her brother-in-law and another woman had also been raped by a close family member. Two women had had children as a result of being sexually abused, children who were either still in the country of origin or with them in the UK.

A UK barrister, speaking of her clients who were claiming asylum on SOGI grounds, told us: ‘There is a significant proportion of people who have experienced torture. I cannot put a percentage on it, but it is significant’ (Annabelle, barrister and NGO chair, UK). She connected this with the mental health problems that many of these individuals experienced:

In the many years of working in this field, I have met only a couple of LGBTQI claimants who did not report at least some degree of mental ill health normally associated with their experiences in their country of origin, even where those do not amount to physical abuse (long term fear, isolation, discrimination...).

In the UK, medical professionals in NGOs such as Freedom from Torture and the Helen Bamber Foundation provide asylum claimants and refugees who have experienced torture, with expert counselling and, on the instruction of the legal representative, also write medico-legal reports for individuals to inform the decision-making process. However, as the demand for medico-legal reports and specialist therapeutic support is significant, there can be a long wait for the reports and, if the claimant does not qualify for legal aid, they may be unaffordable or unavailable to claimants – particularly at the initial decision-making stage:

Some lawyers will also be hesitant to arrange for these reports earlier than the appeal stage, because the Legal Aid Agency may refuse to grant funding on the basis that such move would be pre-emptive, that is, “why should we fund a report to prove your client’s case, when there is no proof that the HO will refuse their claim?” (Mateo, solicitor and NGO worker, UK).

This contributes to unnecessary delays in the asylum process. Individuals who have experienced violence and sexual abuse in private, as is often the case in SOGI asylum claims, are unlikely to have documentaryevidence to support their claim and then ‘everything turns on their account which might be rejected for reasons of lack of coherence or consistency, which should be expected from a torture victim or a person suffering from poor mental health’ (Annabelle, barrister and NGO chair, UK). Medico-legal reports will be particularly important in such cases, but as they are, usually only available at the appeal stage, it is likely that many strong claims for protection will initially be refused only to succeed on appeal when the critical medico-legal report has been provided. This extends the time decision-making takes from start to finish, unnecessarily increasing the stress and difficulty for claimants, as well as the cost to the state. Moreover, the definition of ‘torture’ used by some NGOs may not cover abuse at the hands of family members as often experienced by SOGI minorities (Freedom from Torture2019).

There are also concerns that when they are commissioned, these reports are not recognised as authoritative in the way that they should be. Freedom from Torture is one organisation providing these services, and, as mentioned in Chap. 7, has highlighted strong concerns about the UK government’s mishandling of medical evidence of torture. The organisation claims that the Home Office Asylum Policy Instruction on how expert medical evidence should be treated is being ignored, that clinical expertise is questioned by untrained caseworkers, and that the wrong standard of proof is applied (Freedom from Torture 2016).

The services of organisations such as Freedom from Torture are not specifically for SOGI minorities and the organisation does not monitor its clients on the basis of SOGI identity. Yet, another participant whose organisation provides medico-legal reports in cases of human rights abuse estimates that, of the organisation’s clients, ‘[a]round 90% of females and more than 50% of males have been raped as part of what has happened to them, either during trafficking or in their home country’ (Carl, doctor with an organisation providing medico-legal reports, UK). This is true regardless of SOGI. However, he also believes that a quarter of his and the organisation’s clients are LGBTIQ+. While this is only one individual’s estimate, it suggests that the problems that Freedom from Torture have identified in relation to decision-makers’ misuse of medical evidence of torture have a strong significance for SOGI minorities seeking asylum, many of whom have experienced torture.

It is clear from our fieldwork that SOGI minorities need both expert therapeutic care as torture survivors and medico-legal experts to provide evidence in their cases. While the above findings from organisations providing medico-legal reports and support to torture victims comes from the UK, the experiences of torture, violence and sexual violence were more widespread and came from participants and their supporters in all three countries (Chap. 5). This suggests that specialist support for LGBTIQ+ survivors of torture is a vital need. Yet, we found little such support in Germany or Italy, and in the UK demand outstrips supply, with one psychotherapist estimating that ‘even when we were taking one new client [referring to general provision] every fortnight, we would be turning away eight others’ (Ashley, psychotherapist). A similarly dire situation can be observed in relation to mental health, as we will now consider.

2.4 Mental Health

Asylum claimants, particularly those who have experienced sexual violence and torture, have a heightened risk of mental health problems such as PTSD, severe depression, isolation, and feelings such as shame and helplessness (Hopkinson et al. 2017; Longacre et al. 2012; Reading and Rubin 2011). For members of SOGI minorities, it has been suggested that the relationship between early victimisation and negative mental health outcomes may be more pronounced (Hopkinson et al. 2017, p. 1650).

The combination of persecution by family or community in their country of origin with alienation from diaspora communities in the host country means that SOGI claimants are likely to experience isolation, both voluntary and self-imposed isolation, as well as PTSD, depression and other mental health problems (Alessi and Kahn 2017; Hopkinson et al. 2017; Micro Rainbow International 2013, pp. 27–28; Shidlo and Ahola 2013; Tabak and Levitan 2013; UNHCR2013). Sexual violence can cause feelings of self-blame and self-hatred (Women’s Refugee Commission 2019). This research supports our findings, where the most commonly recurring health needs in our study related to mental health. Mental and physical health problems relating to the persecution they had experienced or the process of claiming asylum were reported by 56% of the respondents in our claimants’ survey. This is not surprising in the context of the experiences of some SOGI claimants: one anonymised medico-legal report we were given access to documented the physical evidence of torture experienced by a lesbian woman from an East African country. She had been raped at the age of 12, forced into marriage at 15, and she and her partner had had acid thrown at them alongside other attacks. The report documented evidence of PTSD, problems with ‘intrusive memories and visual and tactile flashbacks to her adverse experiences, particularly the rape’. The report stated that ‘[s]he also displays evidence of depression and panic attacks, which are often found among survivors of torture and related abuses’ (anonymised report from January 2019 provided by Carl, doctor with an organisation providing medico-legal reports, UK).

Such experiences of torture, violence and sexual abuse were connected to experiences of PTSD in the accounts we heard from asylum claimants and also from the NGOs and professionals working with or supporting them. Lutfor (UK) explained how having PTSD jeopardised his study plans, preventing him from going to college on the student visa that was how he originally entered the UK. Ximena (UK) also told us that:

I suffer about the post traumatic disorder, for all those things happening in my life. Sometime, when sometime I say when I remember all those things happening to me, I feel sad. Because I remember my friend, I would like they were here, but they pass away. They were killed just for being transgender woman. But I am trying to continue with my life.

Carl explained that ‘[p]atients [who have been tortured] often think they are going crazy. They need to be reassured that they are having a normal human reaction to an intolerable situation. That, for me, is what actually PTSD is’.

Many people described how they felt to us. For example, in Germany, Halim explained:

And it’s not really visible, and people think that now because I’m traumatised I’m going to be sitting home crying all the time. I’m trying to function, however it really affects my ability, or has affected for me my ability to function for a long time. And when I think back about it, of course the first year I was traumatised and it reflected on my energy, my concentration in a lot of ways. Yeah, but people don’t really understand this.

In Italy, we were told that ‘[a] lot of us have temporary madness, which can be treated, caused by the Sahara Desert [their route to Italy], temporary madness. It’s not easy to watch your friends dying around, and they expect you to be normal’ (Nice Guy, focus group no. 1, northern Italy). And in the UK, someone who had come through the worst of her mental ordeal said: ‘at the height of it, I wanted to take my brain and rip it out because it was a mental pain that you couldn’t put your hand on, but it hurts like someone chopping you on the hand’ (SWG, focus group no. 4, London, UK).

Shame and guilt also featured in our participants’ stories. Ximena (UK) told us she was sexually abused by a teacher but did not tell her mother because she felt scared and ashamed. Shame is also the justification for the abuse she experienced. She told us of her father’s violence towards her and her mother: ‘and he told me “I don’t want to have a son who will be a shame for me, for my last name. For me you are die, it is your fault, you are feminine child”’. He blamed Ximena’s mother for raising a ‘very feminine’ son and asked Ximena to leave home when she was 14.

Most common were accounts of depression like Sandra’s (Germany): ‘I felt empty, defeated, lost, tired, very, very tired. I lost all the motivation and all the thinking that I had about life and what I wanted to achieve and everything’. Very often, people talked about their depression unprompted, for example when talking about being unable to work, which, according to one focus group participant makes you feel worthless ‘and that messes with you mentally’ (focus group no. 1, Hesse, Germany). Other people, like Christina, felt hopeless. They had suffered a great deal from depression since arriving in the UK. At one point, they said ‘Iwas contemplating if I should go back home because they are going to send me home anyway and I might as well just do it and if I have to die, just die, I don’t really care anymore, I was going through that whole depression’. We asked Christina if they had felt able to get support and they said:

To be honest, I am always the one who gives advice. I never get advice. So it was, for me it was really hard to open up to people and say: “Oh look, I am struggling mentally, I need help”.

This shows how difficult many people find it to be dependent, and to feel unable to control their own lives, a theme we analyse further in Chap. 10.

There were many accounts of the known symptoms of depression such as sleeplessness. Rosette (Germany) told us:

Most of the time I don’t even sleep. Most of the time I think that I’m old, I should at least be at my place enjoying my life. (crying) At my age people are just enjoying their life. Why can’t I enjoy my life (whispering, very upset).

Survey respondents reported similar experiences, such as this lesbian woman from Uganda who was appealing against her refusal in Germany:

I have developed a sickness mentally I think it’s because of over thinking and I can no longer sleep. I have sleepless nights and am on drugs per now. If I don’t take drugs I can’t sleep (C44).

Sometimes, people were unable to sleep because of recurring flashbacks. Water, for example, was unable to find peace because ‘if I am sleeping, I see the pictures of everything, you know’ (focus group no. 4, northern Italy). Sometimes, sleeplessness was due to real and present fears. Marhoon, for instance, was scared that the male members of his family would come after him to Germany: ‘[I]n the dream, I see, OK my family has found me and they’re coming here to kill me’. He had developed agoraphobia and had panic attacks when he went out in public.

We heard many accounts of suicidal thoughts and behaviours from lawyers, NGO workers and claimants themselves (for example Ali, UK; Amber, UK; Sandra, Germany). This was often linked to the asylum process and was sparked by a refusal of the claim (Lutfor, UK; Sadia, UK). People who had been detained also talked about how these experiences contributed to suicidal feelings:

I remember when I was in detention like I felt like I am being targeted for no reason and like you know, my emotional state was so bad like and I wanted to like, you know, commit suicide and I said I wanted, I don’t want to live anymore, I just want to like kill myself, and get away from it (Lubwa, focus group no. 1, Manchester, UK).

Avoiding public places and social engagement was another common symptom of depression for our participants, though often difficult to separate from practical reasons for isolation such as the lack of accessible SOGI-friendly spaces (Chap. 8). Several people described staying in their rooms and doing nothing: ‘Because I barely talk, I don’t talk to people, I was just all alone. I could just sit in the room, all day long not coming out’ (Just Me, focus group no. 3, northern Italy). Other examples were given by Halim (Germany), Sandra (Germany), Selim (UK), Meggs (focus group no. 1, Manchester, UK), and Joyce (focus group no. 5, Nottingham, UK).

The conditions in which people lived aggravated their mental health issues. Halim was in a reception camp in Germany:

I was having a very difficult time of my life and I couldn’t close the door and say I’m on my own now, I didn’t have a chance to do that. So it was very hard, the system and the people treating you, it felt like part of a herd of people, so it just didn’t feel… it was very bad for my mental health I was very depressed at the time.

Two further phenomena are important to note here. The first is the impact of mental health and health factors on the asylum process. It is clear that the impact of suffering from PTSD or depression needs to be recognised by decision-makers. Research shows how trauma affects memory (Herlihy and Turner 2007). This was confirmed by our participants. While trying to secure documentation of mental health problems in advance of the asylum interview for people who are vulnerable, Chiara, an NGO worker in Italy, recognised that ‘people can be in a confused state, they can be extremely, how can I say, inaccurate when you ask them questions about, say, particularly difficult moments in life, so it is possible that there are contradictions’. As previous chapters have shown, it is difficult for SOGI claimants to provide the evidence decision-makers require to be convinced they are ‘genuine’ – genuinely LGBTIQ+ and genuinely at risk of persecution (as discussed in Chap. 7). Being severely depressed or suffering from PTSD compounds the difficulty in presenting a convincing testimony:

You know, my mind was not working and I was, my mind was like pushing me to stand there and watch that thing. Nothing else I remember. But when we went for our interview, when I told them “look, I am not mentally fine, I know when we came here [UK], what happened to us, I can tell you, but few things I really don’t remember”. But they did not believe me (Mary, UK).

Mary’s partner Zaro, jointly claiming with her, confirmed her account. In another case that illustrates insufficient awareness of claimants’ mental health issues, in one appeal hearing in the UK, the claimant’s barrister told the judge of the claimant’s longstanding depression and suicidal thoughts. The Home Office presenting officer acting for the Secretary of State subsequently said to the claimant: ‘you said when [your representative] asked that you lived openly as gay man, in what ways?’. The claimant explained in his response that because of his depression he had found it difficult to relate to people, and go to gay bars and find a boyfriend – and he also could not afford to do this (First Tier Tribunal observation, London, November 2018). The lack of resources and mental health problems combined for this man in a way that made it harder to prove his claim in the ways that the UK asylum system expects. However, in this instance the appeal was successful and he received refugee status.

A government official in the UK also confirmed the impact of mental health in interviews and explained that if somebody has PTSD, then ‘you have got to take that into account that they may not remember stuff’ (Olivia, UK). Yet, as we saw in Chaps. 6 and 7, inconsistency is a frequent basis for refusal based on lack of credibility. We were told by one NGO worker:

and then they [people whose claim is refused] will be told “your language was vague, you didn’t specify your feelings”. I think sometimes it is people’s mental health that causes them not to be able to say much about their feelings, as well, you know, they are withdrawn (Debbie, NGO worker, UK).

In terms of treatment and support, the mental health of asylum claimants and refugees is recognised both as an area where specialist services and expertise are needed, and also as an area where needs are not being met and there is not enough evidence (Basedow and Doyle 2016; Mind 2009; Piwowarczyk et al. 2017; Slobodin and de Jong 2015). Other research suggests that SOGI asylum claimants are often likely to have experienced childhood persecution and are survivors of childhood trauma, meaning that particular forms of clinical treatment such as art and music therapy may be appropriate (Hopkinson et al. 2017, p. 1662).

The need for mental health support is recognised as being high among LGBTIQ+ populations and, similarly, there is a high demand for therapeutic work with people who have been tortured (Eleanor, NGO worker, UK). A further complication is that healthcare, even if it is available, is often not culturally appropriate. An NGO worker in Italy pointed out that the standardised [diagnostic] tests used by psychologists and psychiatrists are modelled on Italian or Western patients and cannot be used with foreign patients (Chiara, NGO worker, Italy). Compounding this, it was suggested that cultural factors sometimes make it harder for SOGI minority asylum claimants to ask for mental health support:

I have done some work with BAME [Black, Asian and minority ethnic] communities across Greater Manchester and the biggest barrier was the stigma around mental health. So you have that cultural stigma, as well as being LGBT, so people find it really difficult to access services (Justina, NGO worker, UK).

However, some of the people we talked to had received counselling (Ibrahim A., UK; Meggs, UK), but far more common were references to being prescribed anti-depressant medication:

My GP, bless him, at that time he was also very supportive, yes, and he give me a lot of advice and I am still on antidepressants, until today, so like that was a big, big part, because I went suicidal as well at that time (Selim, UK).

In the UK, in particular, people told us they were taking medication to combat depression. Lutfor was taking ‘mirtazapine, zopiclone, paroxetine, or paroxetine something, and iron’. Ibrahim A. had been taking anti-depressants but stopped, because he did not like the changes they caused to his behaviour. Joyce and Selim gave us similar accounts of lives that consisted of staying in their rooms and taking their medication.

Non-medicinal support or talking therapies was not always provided through formal counselling. Melisa (NGO worker, UK) told us:

We have a group called “Sister Sister”, which is a support group for women only, LBT women, and we also have a choir, and sometimes we have theatre groups, we do some theatre work. We believe in tackling all trauma through, we take a holistic approach in tackling the trauma of LGBT asylum seekers and refugees.

Similarly, SGW (focus group no. 4, London, UK) also found it uplifting to join a support group: ‘But the thing for me what worked was like I found [a local lesbian support group], so I used to go to Manchester every month to look forward to being in a surrounding’.

A less positive phenomenon that emerged in the research is that many people are re-traumatised – rather than supported – by the process of claiming asylum. This corresponds to research showing that LGBTIQ+ refugees are exposed to trauma not only prior to leaving their country of origin, but throughout the entire transit and reception process (Alessi et al. 2018). In Germany, Leon described this as almost inevitable: ‘And then it is mutually dependent. If you already have a trauma and you are in a hopeless situation, the trauma will be amplified’ (Leon, NGO worker, Germany). Similarly, a SOGI group volunteer in Italy told us:

let’s not open the Pandora’s box on how the system makes people sick. Because the system makes people sick. (…) The system brings out the post-traumatic disorders, the fact of continually reliving the negative element, continuously telling how I was beaten, the non-recognition of what I claim to be. It has effects on asylum claimants. The continuous expectation, the need to be identified by an external subject with respect to what I am, creates a disturbance to people (Giulio, LGBTIQ+ group volunteer, Italy).

Chiara (NGO worker, Italy) also explained that the Italian reception system ‘creates pathologies’. While people bring with them trauma from their country of origin, she felt that this then becomes chronic or more acute as a result of the reception system. Likewise, a doctor confirmed that ‘[t]he Home Office practice of disbelief on top of people’s past experiences frequently causes re-traumatisation’ (Carl, doctor with an organisation providing medico-legal reports, UK).

This suggests that there needs to be both more sensitivity within the asylum decision-making and reception system to trauma-related needs, and also greater specialist provision outside these systems for individuals, and provision that is tailored to their needs in terms of SOGI, country of origin, gender and other characteristics. As with health, there are SOGI-specific aspects to employment, the subject of the next Section.

3 Work

3.1 The Right to Work

The right to work and to freely choose one’s work is recognised as fundamental to human existence.Footnote 3 Despite this, and despite the requirements of Article 15 of the Reception Directive mentioned above, all our three case study countries prevent – legally or in practice – asylum claimants from working for some or all of the period that they are waiting for a decision on their application. In Germany, claimants may not work for the first three months of their application (§61(2) Asylum Act Germany), and those from ‘safe countries’ placed in reception centres are unable to work for the entire period that their claim is being decided. After three months, they can apply for work but many will not speak German to the level needed for employment. In Italy, asylum claimants can start work within 60 days of making an asylum application, but in practice they face problems securing the residence permit needed to work. Moreover, Decree Law no. 113/2018, abolished the provision of vocational training for asylum claimants that existed under the former SPRAR system (ECRE, AIDA & ASGI 2019, p. 102). In the UK, asylum claimants are prohibited from working, although they can apply for permission to work if their claim is outstanding after a year. However, even then, they can only apply for jobs where workers are in short supply and these are narrowly defined (for example, consultant in neuro-physiology) (ECRE, AIDA & Refugee Council 2019, p. 72). There is one exception: people in immigration detention are able to work for a fixed rate of £1 per hour for ‘routine activities’ (Home Office2019, p. 5), a policy seen as exploitative but that was unsuccessfully challenged in 2019.Footnote 4 In the UK, research has found that asylum claimants are susceptible to forced labour and that payment below the national minimum wage is normal for asylum claimants and refugees, with or without permission to work (Lewis et al. 2013).

Those with refugee status should have equal access to the labour market but, in reality, asylum claimants and people with refugee status experience similar barriers to finding a job in terms of language, negotiating the bureaucracy of the host country, employer prejudice, lack of recognised qualifications, and lack of what may be called social capital or networks – the kinds of connections that often enable citizens and established residents to find out about and secure jobs. More than one respondent pointed out the importance of language in finding work. For example, Moses (Italy) said ‘you have to perfect the Italian language before they can probably employ you, and on the other hand, scouting for job here it is not really that easy’.

Location plays a role in employment prospects. No country under comparison had a comprehensive package of employment support for refugees. The UK’s Refugee Integration and Employment Service (RIES) funding ended in 2011 (Hill 2011) and refugees’ access to support in finding a job is determined largely by dispersal location during asylum, or by where they go after recognition if they are able to move. If people are able to find work, it is often at a much lower level of pay and status than their occupation in their country of origin. Alphaeus (Germany), working as a care provider for older people, had been an engineer, owning his own construction company. Sandra (Germany) also talked about building a new life, but one that is ‘way far from being the same level’ as she was used to (Chap. 5).

The inability to work is a huge cause of frustration for all asylum claimants, as was well documented through our fieldwork. In Germany, one participant said: ‘Put me somewhere where I can even babysit a child, take care of an old person. You know? Clean somebody’s house and get paid. It’s still a job, you know?’ They continued ‘As a nail technician, I’m used to working long hours. I’m not used to being at home, looking at the ceiling every day’ (focus group no. 1, Hesse, Germany).

A claimant in Italy described the period when some people claiming asylum were housed in camps as a missed opportunity to provide people with training and education:

when you leave the camp, you can be able to be useful to yourself. Not selling, you see some boys doing nonsense in the street, selling nonsense, some are doing, some girls are doing prostitution, why? Because they have to pay their house rent, they have to feed, they have to do all that things (Bella, Italy).

In the UK, a coalition has campaigned around the call for the government to ‘lift the ban’ on asylum claimants working.Footnote 5 There is both a financial imperative to people’s wish to work and a psychological one: being denied a fulfilling occupation and the means to support oneself is demoralising, particularly over a long period. Silver put it very simply: ‘I have to be autonomous. I have to pay for myself’ (Silver, Italy).

A lack of work often continued after the grant of international protection. A report by the Refugee Council in the UK on the problems people experience in moving on with their lives on being granted status found that no participant managed to get a job within their ‘move on’ period of 28 days: ‘participants voiced frustration at their experiences of searching for work and their interactions with staff at the Jobcentre and they felt were not giving them the support they needed’ (Basedow and Doyle 2016, p. 20). However, both before and after a decision on their application, many individuals became involved in community organisations or other voluntary activities, as we consider in the next Section.

3.2 Voluntary Work and Community Involvement

Many of our participants chose to become involved in community engagement or voluntary work – either working with existing civil society organisations or helping to establish new ones. These unpaid contributions sometimes continued after the grant of international protection and provided the basis for or a stepping stone to paid employment. As this unpaid campaigning or support or advocacy work was often with LGBTIQ+ migrant groups, this was the basis for individuals from SOGI minorities moving into this area of work. This was the case with Jayne, in the UK, who experienced a lengthy legal battle for asylum, during which time she helped to establish a local branch of a larger African-led LGBTIQ+ asylum organisation. Jayne said:

maybe those are the kinds of things that help me to keep sane… Trying to occupy myself. Yes, because you need to have a purpose in life and this whole system that is, what it does, you live a purposeless life, so it takes, I didn’t come here educated, but I have met midwives, teachers, who are just now reduced to nothing, go to foodbank and come back and that is it. Even to get to volunteer, it is difficult because the documentation hinders doing a DBS [the government certification needed to work with vulnerable people in the UK] application, yes, so it is… it is difficult, a lot of people will lose it [mental health] along the way.

Other people’s experiences led them to pursue volunteering and undertake training to enable them to help people through the difficulties they had experienced, or as Lubwa explained, ‘to give back to society’ after people had supported him when he needed it (focus group no. 1, Manchester, UK). Joyce (UK) did a course on mental health and wellbeing so she could help people who had gone through the same problems as she had, having realised how common depression is.

Voluntary work was seen as a way to get experience, engage with people and fill the time while waiting for a decision. For example, Angel (Germany) said: ‘So I want to start volunteering my time, like now that I can’t work, volunteer my time, so that when I can work, I will have the experience’. However, there were no opportunities to do this in the rural area where she was accommodated (Chap. 8). In the UK, Lutfor told us about four different charities he had volunteered with, including the Red Cross, over more than two years while waiting for his claim to be decided.

At the same time, some participants felt exploited by the expectation they carry out unpaid work – one person even said they felt forced to take on voluntary work (Nice Guy, focus group no. 1, northern Italy). Furthermore, Wendy, an NGO worker in the UK, reported confusion on the part of officials as to whether asylum claimants barred from paid employment were also barred from volunteering – which they are not. Wendy had to have several ‘robust conversations’ with UKBA staff to inform them of people’s rights to volunteer and claim expenses that do not constitute payment. Not surprisingly, the difficulties individuals experienced in joining the formal job market often led them to situations where they were exploited or at risk, as we go on to consider.

3.3 Sexual Exploitation and Sex Work

The UNHCR has recognised the ‘specific protection risks that LGBTI refugees may experience in the country of asylum’, including ‘[r]eliance on survival sex work, exposing individuals to various physical dangers and health risks, including sexual and physical violence, and sexually transmitted diseases’ (UNHCR2013, p. 4).

This was confirmed by our research. A number of people we talked to – both people claiming asylum and people working with them – gave us accounts of sexual or other forms of exploitation and suggested that this might be a problem of particular concern for SOGI claimants, especially transgender claimants. Bringing this point home, Ibrahim (Germany), a beneficiary of subsidiary protection entitled to work and was involved with an LGBTIQ+ organisation, said that, in 2015, he had been in contact with seven male-to-female transgender refugees, one of whom was in sex work in Berlin while the other six had returned to Turkey (the country through which they had travelled to reach Europe). He explained that, in Germany:

[t]hey don’t have any working opportunities. But when they were working in prostitution, they had an income, they had money, they were able to satisfy themselves, to go out and do things. But when they come here, you know, a woman needs a lot of expensive, like, make-up and all this stuff. And with this small amount of money and the lack of knowledge in the language, and they are not allowed to work, they were in a lot of depression and so... imagine at some point, some people go “look how I was looking in Turkey. How I look here.” Imagine. So that is why a lot of people went back (Ibrahim, Germany).

Jules, staff member at ILGA-Europe, pointed out that the costs of medical treatment were another reason why transgender claimants were more likely to resort to prostitution.

Unsurprisingly, accounts of sexual exploitation and sex work were more commonly given by NGO workers or lawyers, rather than by claimants themselves. An NGO worker in Germany talked about casual prostitution or ‘sugar daddy’ relationships involving local German White men (Noah, NGO social worker). In Italy, we were told by Giulia (LGBTIQ+ group volunteer, Italy) that this was ‘the easiest way to make money’ She went on:

[t]here are (countrymen) homosexuals who make the rounds in front of the reception centres, they load two and leave twenty euros. The boys tell me almost all of these things happen, then if they do it voluntarily and it’s okay to take those €20, I will never judge them.

Some claimants did talk about this kind of exploitation. One of our participants said that after she broke up with her partner, she got involved in sex work to help her survive, describing it as ‘one of the darkest time in my life, if I’m honest’.

Sometimes, as we saw in Chap. 5, sexual abuse or exploitation – sexual or other – was a factor in people’s journey to and arrival in Europe. We heard of SOGI asylum claimants – usually women – who were trafficked to Europe and either claimed protection (initially) as victims of trafficking or escaped and claimed protection on a SOGI basis. One UK participant had been brought to the UK on the promise of work, but on arrival found that the ‘job’ was prostitution, which is when she ran away to claim asylum. Another, also in the UK, told a similar story:

I will cut it a bit short because it is a bit emotional (…) I came to this country very young, in my 20s and it was, I passed through a lot in Cameroon. I was forced to get married very young, age of 17/18 years, I had a lot of domestic violence… And then I came to England through someone who brought me into the country. After the man brought me here, I had a lot of, I mean was forced to prostitution which I mean, because I never wanted to go back to Cameroon…

There were also accounts of sexual abuse and even sexual violence at the hands of supporters or individuals claiming to be allies. Ibrahim was working as an activist to empower refugees to prevent this kind of abuse. However, this kind of exploitation is widely recognised. Jules (staff member at ILGA-Europe) also told us of people offering help ‘under the guise of being volunteers or supporters’ and exchanging sexual favours for money or medication.

These kinds of accounts of sexual exploitation were common and based on inequalities in power and assets of those concerned:

Yeah, that power, that power relation... yeah, yeah. So I had cases too. But thank God not many. So a few cases were reported to me, where in fact older, White, gay men have approached very young refugees waiting for an asylum decision and have offered support, such as offering their flat. But not only out of pure kindness, they also wanted something in return. So they quite explicitly have also put their terms on the table. These are the better ones. Because then there are also those that package it as a kind-hearted offer, but where then actually something more is required, but that is not openly framed as “trade”. Such cases happened, but fortunately they were not so many, not so often. Well, that happens (Kadir, NGO worker, Germany).

In the UK, we were also told about people becoming sex workers or providing sex services, either formally or informally through transactional relationships in which sex was exchanged for accommodation or some kind of assistance with ‘strings attached’ (Gary, NGO worker; we also heard this from Eleanor, NGO worker, and Joseph, NGO volunteer). Moreover, exploitation did not necessarily end with the asylum decision, even if it was a positive one. Selim (UK) described how the lack of support on receiving asylum exposed him to sexual exploitation: ‘I need to sleep with someone to be able to sleep on their couch. And that was never, never the case before’.

Meggs (focus group no. 1, Manchester, UK) had been doing her own research on vulnerability in preparation for a feminist conference she was helping to organise and was shocked to find out what young women were going through: ‘In this country. I am not talking about back home. In this country. I have been destitute since last year March when my accommodation… I was kicked out of because my case was finished’. She compared her situation to other women claiming asylum:

so some of the girls, because there is no accommodation, they will spend most of the times in Piccadilly going up and round with their bags full of Home Office files thinking that “after 8 o’clock where am I going to sleep? Which door can I knock on so I can sleep?” (…) any men who is going to approach them, they will have to take you because it is the survival of the fittest. (…) And it is now happening in this country, where we are expecting to be safe.

Not surprisingly, NGOs working with SOGI asylum claimants identify the risk of sexual abuse as an important one to address. In our survey we heard from one respondent that there was sexual abuse within and outside ‘their own community’ and that there had been cases of sexual favours demanded in exchange for giving witness evidence (S122, UK). It is not surprising if people with no income sometimes resort to such means of making money. However, not all exploitation we heard about was sexual as considered in the Section that follows.

3.4 Discrimination and Exploitation in Employment

Exploitation is not always sexual, we encountered situations where people were given work but underpaid or supported on an ‘in kind basis’ – in both situations, on the basis that people claiming asylum had no alternative but to accept these conditions. Here it is impossible to identify whether SOGI is a reason why these individuals were targeted in this way. What is easier to say with confidence is that their status as both asylum claimants or people who had yet to claim asylum, in combination with their SOGI minority status deprived them of alternatives and sources of support.

Zena thought she was coming to the UK to study, but instead was made to work as an unpaid nanny and domestic servant by a couple who took away her passport and would not let her leave the house alone (Zena, First Tier Tribunal Appeal, London, 2018 decision paper). But abuse is not always this blatant. Melisa, an NGO worker in the UK, said:

in terms of women, we have seen a lot of domestic servitude, where LGBT women are looking after children, doing domestic chores, and just for a roof over their head. Sometimes they are given a little bit of money but sometimes they are not.

Melisa’s organisation provided life coaching for SOGI female asylum claimants in this situation, helping them to move on, be proactive and find employability and educational support:

because if she has been in domestic servitude for a long time, you sometimes forget yourself. Forget your ambitions, you forget the things that you are able to do. So what life coaching does, it brings that out, you know, they will talk to you about what you want to do, your ambitions, and you can actually make a journey path with your coach…

In the case of Lutfor (UK), mentioned in the previous chapter, he left his home country to escape persecution, but was unaware that he could claim asylum on that basis in the UK. He became destitute and was taken in by fellow nationals, who were unaware of his sexual orientation. He lived with them for two years, cleaning and cooking and only leaving the house to go to the shops, receiving food and accommodation in exchange. He felt fondly about his hosts:

They were really nice people. I mean, they helped me [in] the situation when no one else did, I didn’t get any kind of support from my family, but they did as much as they can. Sometimes they gave me their old clothes to wear… there is an open market in [location x], I go buy some groceries, come home, that was my life. Like every two or three days later I go for shopping, because there are too many people, like nine, including me in this house, four bedroomed house, nine guys, living here, so even too many vegetables, fish and meat, everything, and that is why I go out, otherwise I don’t. I didn’t go out of the house. That is all, that was my life.

Lutfor was detained when he eventually claimed asylum and taken to Harmondsworth, where his mobile phone was taken away from him. When he was released and returned to the house, the people in the house had packed up his possessions, having replaced him: ‘they said we already got another one’.

Some of our participants also worked informally while waiting for a decision. For example, Prince Emrah (Germany), a belly dancer, worked sometimes on a paid and sometimes on an unpaid basis, including by dancing at Soli parties (‘solidarity’ fundraising events), such as a fundraiser for someone to pay for breast construction surgery. Payment for informal work is likely to be below the national minimum wage and irregular, especially in Italy, where many claimants and refugees are exploited in the agriculture sector working without a contract: ‘they pay me giornata’ – by the day (Franco, Italy).

Exploitation could be at the hands of European nationals, but sometimes also by people from the same diaspora community and sometimes based on prejudice:

The second difficulty is in the world of work because the world of work, obviously in some contexts, can still be homophobic, especially if in that world of work you come... unfortunately they are very exposed to the phenomenon of the ethnic capolarato [illegal migrant labour or gangmaster system based on ethnic or national ties]. So when a Bengali young man is inserted in a context of Bengali young men, who is hosted by a fellow countryman, who is inserted into the world of work by a compatriot, revealing his sexuality to them could be strongly negative, precisely because they are his social and labour integration (Silvana, judge, Italy).

For those in a position to seek formal employment, there were two stages of discrimination: when looking for work and once they were in post. For some job-seekers, SOGI was clearly a reason why they could not find work. Sylvia, in Germany (focus group no. 5, Bavaria), described what happened with one potential employer:

the would-be boss said “I want to give you a chance to try and see if you could fit this job”. When I went to this lady and said “OK, I’m here, I would want to try”, she requested my Facebook account. She had appreciated my working skills, but when the lady realised on Facebook that I’m a lesbian, she called me on the phone and asked “Are you really a lesbian?” I am not scared to say that I am a lesbian. Indeed, I confirmed to her that I am one. And she lost interest in employing me. So we still have challenges. There are people who still don’t understand us here.

Discrimination might also be on the basis of migrant, refugee or minority ethnic status. To combat the discrimination or simply the bureaucratic problems facing someone with refugee status, Selim (UK) had developed a strategy to avoid being rejected at the outset and which he used to get a post as a flight attendant with British Airways: ‘I learnt my lesson, I don’t go ahead and tell my employer before I start working with them that I am a refugee, because that is a dead start, they will not accept me. I wait until I pass all the interviews…’ When he was offered a job and asked for his passport, he offered his travel document instead, because the Home Office had retained his passport. British Airways were initially uncertain about his entitlement to work and, although he was eventually taken on, it took two months of waiting before they confirmed his job offer, showing the difficulties facing newly recognised refugees. Water (focus group no. 4, northern Italy) reported seeing their CV thrown away before their eyes: ‘They just take it from you, and dump it. In your presence, they just tear it…’.

Similarly, once in work, LGBTIQ+ refugees were not always treated as equal to other citizens or residents, and would not necessarily know whether SOGI was a factor. Nelo, with refugee status in Italy, had been working as an interpreter for the police (‘carabinieri’) in Bologna and reported being paid only EUR4 per hour, however, for him it was a good experience because ‘it was a way to express my… decency… and decency, the kind of person you are. Like, I don’t have the interest of come here to spoil your country’.

We also heard about discrimination when employers and work colleagues discovered individuals’ SOGI. Alphaeus (Germany) explained that:

I work and I’m working... my boss came to know that I’m gay and somehow the attitude changed with the co-workers, the colleagues at work. Yeah, people who used to laugh with me before they get to know that, because how they get to know that is when we had a CSD [Christopher Street Day] march here, German for the Gay Pride. And I was like, I had to participate in that. And somehow I had to ask for permission from my boss, and then of course she has to ask “what are you going to do, what is it all about?” and all that stuff. So when I explained that it’s a CSD, then she came to know that I am gay, and she maybe shared it with the colleagues at work, whereby some people felt it uncomfortable.

Sadia (UK), with refugee status, described how, after her employer – a fellow national – saw her taking part in a Pride event, he moved her from her job on the shop floor of a shoe shop to the stock room and reduced her hourly pay from GBP10 to GBP8.50, telling her: ‘You are very bad girl, if you are like this [a lesbian]’.

As with many of the concerns identified in this chapter, such problems affect all asylum claimants and refugees, but have specific dimensions for those with SOGI-based claims. Most obviously, the number of grounds on which they experience discrimination may be difficult to discern and therefore address. But they may also lack access to community support and the kinds of diasporic social networks that often enable newly arrived people to find work. In the UK, members of SOGI minorities may benefit from the kind of support offered by one NGO that provides accommodation for SOGI asylum claimants and accompanies it with one-to-one ‘moving on support’ for a period of 6–12 months to help find employment. The organisation provides further employment support:

We also give support in business support to some LGBTI refugees who started small businesses, we have had quite a few successes. A lesbian from Nigeria, for example, started a cleaning business, and it grew, she started working on her own and now she employs other people (Melisa, NGO worker, UK).

Finally, when people did secure work, it could be a great source of personal satisfaction for members of SOGI minorities as with any other claimant: ‘So I am happy with this, because I am independent, and I am proving that, no, I am equal to anybody else, I am a productive person, I am working, I am working hard to stay here’ (Ibrahim, Germany).

There is, of course, a strong connection between employment on the one hand, and education and training – the subject of the following and final Section of this chapter.

4 Education and Training

This chapter concludes with a brief discussion of education: brief because we came across fewer SOGI-specific dimensions here than in other areas. Education was sometimes the first step in claiming protection for claimants, particularly in the UK, like Martin, who came on a student visa to study Mechanical Engineering but was forced to leave his country of origin because of civil unrest and who subsequently made a sur place (in-country) application (Chap. 5).

Here, it is important to distinguish children’s schooling from higher or further education: children and young people claiming asylum, whether on an unaccompanied basis or with their families, are entitled to educational provision as a fundamental right recognised in all the countries covered by this project.Footnote 6 They will inevitably have specific needs and experiences in schooling based on their SOGI, however, our research mainly focused on adults seeking asylum. In this context, education was a concern in two ways: access to and provision of languageclasses in the host country, and access to further and higher education. While for the most part these did not emerge as areas where SOGI minorities had different experiences to other asylum claimants, there were some particularities relating to SOGI.

Gaining fluency in the language of the host country is a fundamental need for all people attempting to establish themselves in a new country (ECRE, AIDA & ASGI 2019, p. 85). Provision differs between Germany, Italy and the UK and within each of these countries, and it also changes depending on the policy of the government of the day. In Germany, the federal government provides languageclasses as part of the integration course that beneficiaries of international protection are usually obliged to attend on receipt of their residence permit and that is also provided to asylum claimants ‘with good prospects of remaining in the country’ (Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs 2015). This last point has a particular bearing on SOGI claimants, as few of the countries where SOGI claimants come from correspond to a good ‘staying perspective’ (‘Bleibeperspektive’), that is, an acceptance rate of 50% (Gisela, lawyer, Germany). In Italy, following the implementation of Decree Law no. 13/2017, language courses are no longer part of the reception package for asylum claimants (ECRE, AIDA & ASGI 2019, p. 85). In the UK, the cost and availability of ESOL provision (English for Speakers of Other Languages) for adult learners differs between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and also varies depending on how an individual came to the UK, with the government announcing a GBP ten million funding boost for English language tuition in 2016, but only for those arriving as part of the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (Home Office2017).

Our participants had the same problems as other people claiming asylum in learning the language of their new country: ‘I’m just like a baby, learning language, learning… all A, B, C, D. It’s difficult for me…’ (Kennedy, Italy). Access to classes is often a problem and one that relates to location. In Germany, one NGO working with lesbian, bisexual and transgender women told us ‘there are women who are, for example, in a small village in Donau-Ries-Kreis, there’s no German course at all’ (Sofia and Emma, NGO workers).

Where people were able to find language lessons, fears of hostility or discrimination by other students based on homophobia or transphobia were mentioned as a concern. One participant in Germany described a German language class where the teacher asked students why they had left their home country and, to avoid discussing his SOGI, he said: ‘it’s politics, it’s a political matter’ (William, Germany). A German NGO worker explained that many trans women abandon or do not attend their German courses, because they feel uncomfortable (Kadir, NGO worker). Another participant in Germany told us about his friend who barely attended school because ‘he was always called a faggot… and that’s not motivating anyone to learn German’ (Zouhair, Germany).

Turning to access to further or higher education, entitlements vary, partly based on whether an individual has refugee status or is still waiting for a determination, but the critical barrier for most people is financial. Each of the countries we are comparing has some scholarship or bursary schemes available to asylum claimants and/or refugees, but these are limited and not easy to access.Footnote 7 Given that the process of claiming asylum can last several years, schemes to enable asylum claimants to access higher education are valuable and need to be expanded. We found that continuing their education was important for many people. Several of our participants were forced to flee before completing their studies: ‘I went to college for finishing my graduation in Bangladesh but I couldn’t, I had to flee after the first year’ (Lutfor, UK).

Not surprisingly, education was often connected to training and improving one’s employment prospects. A number of our participants had a strong wish to resume their education with this as a factor:

My plans, if I get the papers, I will go back for some study so that I can get some certificates, because I don’t think that I can manage to go on university, but I will try for the certificates so that I can get something professional… (Edith, focus group no. 3, London UK).

Finally, as we explained in detail in Chap. 7, the level of education people had in their countries of origin and their grasp of European languages inevitably affected the ease with which they were able to familiarise themselves with the legal system and support structures in the host country and also, importantly, their ability to make a claim and access necessary support. This was less of a problem for our participants in the UK, partly because some of them came from Commonwealth countries or countries that had been colonised by the UK and where English was widely spoken.

To sum up, education featured as a small but very important element in much of our fieldwork, encompassing the role of SOGI in disrupting people’s education in their home countries, the role of education for people who make SOGI-based asylum applications having entered the EU originally to study, and the potential fear or actual experience of discrimination from fellow-students or nationals in languageclasses as a factor undermining the development of new language skills.

Lack of access to languageclasses, training, employment and education was difficult in various ways, but with one common outcome for many: the sense of time being wasted while they waited for a decision, but being unable to move on with their lives in terms of acquiring an education, language or work skills, or earning money. If and when refugee status is granted, individuals have to rebuild their lives from scratch, having been denied access to work and usually to education and training as well during the time that their claim is pending. SOGI claimants and refugees are likely to have few sources of support in rebuilding their lives, as they may have been less able to avail themselves of the usual refugee community organisation support.

5 Concluding Remarks

The areas of entitlement, need and service provision explored in this chapter again highlight the failure within reception provision to fully recognise the rights and needs of SOGI asylum claimants and refugees and the extent of discrimination and marginalisation they encounter.

The problems people experience in relation to education, work and health, in particular mental health, are not always easily identifiable as a direct result of being a member of a SOGI minority. When people experience depression or panic attacks, it is not usually possible to trace the cause back to their experiences of fleeing homophobia or transphobia, for example. Equally, when people are entitled to work but are not offered a job interview for a position for which they are clearly highly qualified, they may not know whether it is because of their SOGI, their ethnicity or their refugee status. If the latter, this may be due as much to confusion on the part of the employer about the identity document legally required to employ someone as it is to prejudice. What is clear from the testimonials we received is that belonging to a SOGI minority often contributes to people’s experiences and, importantly from a policy and practice perspective, may mean that specific expertise and services are needed which are often not available at present.

There are implications in terms of a joined-up reception system that makes important connections between different areas of policy and service delivery: for example, recognition of the need for continuity of medical care for trans people claiming asylum to avoid repeated relocation with new doctors would require immigration officials to, first, systematically record applications with a gender identity basis and, second, liaise with providers of asylum reception and health services, with implications for confidentiality. These implications are revisited in our recommendations.