photos of original couples from Stonewall Immigration Group

25 years since the first positive recognition of same sex relationships in the UK

The Unmarried Partners Concession made it possible for same sex couples to make an application for a partner of a British citizen to remain in the UK if they had lived together for four years. It paved the way to greater equality for same sex couples. 

On the 10 October 1997, the Unmarried Partners Concession was announced, which recognised same sex relationships for the first time in British law.  

From that moment on, LGB people wanting to remain together in the United Kingdom on the basis of their relationship were allowed to do so, as long as they had lived together at least for four years. 

This concession overruled the previous Immigration Rule, by which the partner of a British LGB person had no right to live in the United Kingdom with the person they loved. 

It was through years of campaigning for equal rights by Rainbow Migration, then known as the Stonewall Immigration Group, that Jack Straw, the then Shadow Home Secretary, committed to recognise same sex couples for immigration purposes should Labour win the next election.  

In 1997, five months after the Labour Party won the election, the Concession was passed. 

Thanks to continued campaigning, in 1999 the cohabitation period was reduced from four to two years. After the Unmarried Partners Concession became an Immigration Rule in October 2000, the Civil Partnership Act was passed in Parliament in November 2004. This meant sex same couples had finally achieved full legal immigration parity. 

Javier’s story 

Javier and his partner were one of the couples who were part of the original Stonewall Immigration Group. The Home Office refused their first application in the early nineties, ignoring their argument that they were in the equivalent of a common law relationship. This should have entitled them to be treated as straight couples in similar situations. The concession ensured that, in straight relationships, the foreign partner could be granted an initial one year period of leave to remain. This did not apply to same sex couples at the time. 

As Javier recalls, “when we started this process, I assumed that the British legal system had provisions for gay couples, even though those were the years of Margaret Thatcher, I thought of the United Kingdom as a very liberal society”.   

He and Bill continued fighting for years, but their case wasn’t resolved until the enactment of the Unmarried Partners Concession in 2000. 

“Even though we won [and the Concession was passed], I don’t  remember it feeling as a triumph. It was more like this is what it should have been since the beginning”, explains Javier. He emphasises, “societies in general tend to take for granted a lot of things that they enjoy in the present. Though we enjoy it today, it is the consequences of ongoing struggles through time. Ours was just one struggle, a continuation of many. If anything I do feel proud of being part of that past but to the younger generations I would say these are rights that a lot of people struggled to achieve”. 


World Suicide Prevention Month: the mental health crisis in immigration detention

***Warning: The following article marks World Suicide Prevention Month, which takes place every September. As such it contains themes of death, self-harm and severe mental health issues. Please take care, and do not read on, if you might find this too difficult. If you are an LGBTQI+ person seeking asylum and would like to access emotional support, please contact us.

 

This World Suicide Prevention Month we want to shed light on the mental health crisis in immigration detention. People seeking asylum, or going through our immigration system, can be held in detention without warning, and without knowing when they will be released. Being taken away from friends and family, and held in prison-like conditions, significantly impacts a person’s physical and mental health. In fact, since 2000, 30 people have died by suicide whilst in immigration detention in the UK.   

In Colnbrook detention centre there were 41 recorded incidents of self-harm and 14 people were under constant watch for self-harm between September 2021 and February 2022. 25% of the people held there in 2021-22 said they felt suicidal, and more than three quarters were depressed, according to a report by His Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons. That same report identified there had been insufficient safeguards against placing people who were suicidal in detention.   

These problems are not new. In 2018, The Guardian reported that on average, 2 people per day attempt suicide whilst in immigration detention. In late 2020, after the government announced charter flights would remove people to other countries, the risk of suicide in immigration detention rose to “unprecedented levels” at Brooke House detention centre, according to its Independent Monitoring Board.  

Current government policy is having a similar effect. Earlier this month, Medical Justice, an organisation which supports the health and legal rights of people in immigration detention, warned that this government’s policy to send people arriving in the UK to Rwanda is damaging people’s health whilst in detention. Their evidence shows the threat of removal has exacerbated anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, and caused fear, uncertainty, and loss of hope. It has also lessened some people’s resilience to existing trauma. For some, this means an increased likelihood of self-harm and suicide.  

LGBTQI+ people in detention are especially at risk. Many will have fled persecution and are already trying to cope with experiences of trauma from their past. In detention, they are forced to relive that trauma and to do so completely alone, without specialist support. Many then experience LGBTQI-phobic bullying and abuse in detention, which compounds their existing trauma. Often, they try to hide that they are LGBTQI+ in order to stay safe. It’s reminiscent of the situation from which they have fled. This all has a huge impact on their mental health and can drive many to self-harm and suicide. 

That these centres are particularly damaging for LGBTQI+ people, is highlighted in our joint report with Stonewall, No Safe Refuge. The people we spoke to stressed the deterioration of their mental health whilst in detention. Many self-harmed, couldn’t sleep, or stopped eating. Some attempted suicide and knew of other people in detention who died by suicide.  

 

“I would have preferred to take my own life than be in here. 

It is so painful to be stigmatised and unable to disclose my identity. 

You would prefer to be anywhere than this cage of darkness.” 

 Mukasa from Uganda, No Safe Refuge 

 

It is clear these centres are not safe for anyone. Being detained puts many people who are often already traumatised, at even greater risk of poor mental health and suicide. This is especially true for LGBTQI+ people for the reasons set out above.  

Moreover, no-one should be held in immigration detention without knowing when they’ll be released. The uncertainty of indefinite detention is a huge part of what makes it so damaging. Research shows that mental health worsens the longer the period of detention. As the government’s own guidance states that 28 days is long enough to decide whether a person should be removed from the UK, it is wrong to detain anyone longer than this. 

That’s why we’re campaigning for an end to LGBTQI+ detention and a time limit on all detention. You can support us now by signing your name here.  

There is #NoPrideInDetention. 


Scott Addison and Charles Bishop

Rainbow Migration appoints a new Chair and a new Secretary

We are pleased to announce the appointment of a new Chair of Trustees, Scott Addison (left) and a new Secretary, Charles Bishop (right).  

Scott Addison has been a trustee since 2018. He is a marketing and communications professional with more than two decades of international experience developing and executing communications and reputation management programmes for organisations across the corporate, legal, accounting, financial services and technology sectors. At Rainbow Migration, he led our rebranding strategy process, which brought a wide range of positive feedback from the refugee and LGBTQI+ sector and beyond.  

Charles Bishop is a barrister at Landmark Chambers specialising in public and planning law. Prior to starting at Landmark, he worked at the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association and Wesley Gryk Solicitors. He previously volunteered at Stonewall Housing and the Anti Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit. He joined the board of trustees in November last year.  

Leila Zadeh, Executive Director at Rainbow Migration said, “we are delighted to have Scott as our new Chair of Trustees and Charles as the new Secretary. Both of them bring a wealth of experience and expertise and have already made significant contributions as board members”. 

Scott Addison said, “I am honoured to become the Chair and I look forward to building on the fantastic achievements of the last three decades for LGBTQI+ couples and people seeking asylum.  With recent, regressive changes in asylum law and policy, we are resolute in our determination to do everything we can to make sure LGBTQI+ people are treated kindly and with dignity, and can live safely in the UK.” 

Charles Bishop, said, “I am delighted to be taking on the role of Secretary at such a pivotal time and I look forward to working with the staff and trustee team in the years ahead.” 

We say goodbye and thank Bojana Asanovic and Jackie Peirce, our outgoing Chair and Secretary, for their many years of service, immense hard work, outstanding dedication and contributions to Rainbow Migration. These changes come as part of Rainbow Migration’s longer-term succession and inclusion planning, which will include diversifying the trustee board. 


A group of people waving rainbow flags in a parade that showcases LGBTQI+ solidarity and pride.

3 things our new PM could do to help LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum in the UK

With Liz Truss replacing Boris Johnson as Prime Minister today, we look at what she could do right away to support LGBTQI+ people in our asylum and immigration system. 

There is no doubt that recent government policy and legislation have put the lives of LGBTQI+ people at even greater risk. The Nationality and Borders Act has made it harder for people fleeing persecution to receive protection here, whilst the Rwanda plan threatens to send them thousands of miles away to a place where LGBTQI+ people face violence and discrimination.  

Boris Johnson’s government has also overseen a sharp rise in the number of people held in immigration detention in the last year, adding to his legacy of cruel immigration practices.  

But a new Prime Minister means there is a chance for a change of direction. We hope that Truss, former Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, Minister for Women and Equalities, and a supporter of equal marriage, will reverse the downward trend, and halt the deterioration of rights for LGBTQI+ people seeking safety here. 

So here are three things Liz Truss could do to help LGBTQI+ people in the UK seeking asylum: 

 

1. End LGBTQI+ detention 

Immigration detention is unjust and inhumane. It separates people from their families and seriously damages their mental and physical health. For LGBTQI+ people, it can be particularly dangerous as they face bullying, harassment and abuse. The UK is the only country in Europe where people can be detained indefinitely, with no idea when they might be set free. 

Our No Pride in Detention campaign calls for an end to LGBTQI+ people being held in detention, and a 28-day time limit on all detention. These reforms are urgently needed to limit the damage of this harmful, unjust and expensive system. 

If you agree that our new Prime Minister should act now and end LGBTQI+ detention, please tweet Liz Truss today. 

 

2. Scrap the Rwanda plan 

In April 2022, the government announced plans to send people arriving in the UK to Rwanda to have their asylum claims processed there. Although so far, the policy has been held up by legal challenges, the government is still planning flights for this year. 

Rwanda is not safe for LGBTQI+ people: they are not legally protected, and are subject to entrenched discrimination, violence and abuse, often from security officials. In the past Rainbow Migration has even supported LGBTQI+ Rwandans seeking safety in the UK.  

Innocent Uwimana, a gay man from Rwanda, told us how dangerous it is for LGBTQI+ people there and urges the government to ditch the proposal.  

 

“Being a sexual minority in Rwanda means living

in terror and violence.” Innocent Uwimana

 

Liz Truss has backed the catastrophic scheme so far, but she must scrap it and welcome asylum applications made in the UK instead. Banishing people thousands of miles away presents a real and present danger to anyone seeking asylum in the UK, and especially LGBTQI+ people.  

 

3. Reverse the changes to the standard of proof for asylum claims 

How would you prove your gender identity or sexual orientation if a total stranger asked you to? Providing evidence that you are LGBTQI+ is a huge obstacle to overcome. 

The new Nationality and Borders Act places unreasonable expectations on LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum by setting an even higher bar to “prove” their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and therefore increasing the likelihood of LGBTQI+ people being refused asylum.   

LGBTQI+ people fleeing persecution might have spent their entire lives hiding who they are for their own safety. The only evidence some will have is their own word. 

Proving sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or sex characteristics, is difficult and distressing, and passing a law that made it harder was heartless. Raising the standard of proof means hundreds, or even thousands, of LGBTQI+ people could be returned to countries where they face torture, imprisonment, or death. 

There are many points in the Nationality and Borders Act which need withdrawing but reversing changes to the standard of proof for asylum claims is urgent and could prevent the loss of LGBTQI+ lives. 

 


A close up of a man with a rainbow tie.

"I fled Rwanda due to homophobia - I fear for gay refugees being sent there."

Innocent Uwimana is a gay man from Rwanda who fled to the UK twenty years ago. He told us and Metro his story. This is a summary, but you can read the full article here. 

 

Innocent came to the UK as a 16-year-old to escape rampant homophobia in Rwanda. He is appalled that the government plans to send LGBTQI+ people who come to the UK seeking safety, to Rwanda, a country which does not protect the rights of LGBTQI+ people. 

Innocent was physically abused by classmates. He was regularly violently attacked. He tried to change and fit in, yet the bullying only got worse. He turned to a local priest for guidance but was told he was going to “burn in hell” because of his sexuality. 

“Having experienced the discrimination faced by LGBTQ+ people – or those perceived to be sexual minorities in Rwanda – I am shocked that the UK would deport people from our community there.” 

He knew he had to leave Rwanda to live safely as a gay man. After losing much of his family in the Rwandan genocide in 1994, Innocent decided to come to the UK.  

Whilst Rwanda has made great strides since the war, LGBTQI+ people are not protected. Illegal arrests, false charges, and detention of LGBTQI+ people are common in Rwanda. LGBTQI+ people who ‘come out’ face harassment in places of work, and discrimination in the job and housing markets. They are significantly more likely to be homeless and unemployed. Fearing rejection from their family and wider society, many marry someone of the opposite sex to keep themselves safe.  

Once he came to the UK, Innocent learned to accept himself as a gay man, and now leads a “happy, normal life”. Innocent experienced numerous violent, homophobic attacks as a teenager in Rwanda, and he says the situation is no better for LGBTQI+ Rwandans today. The country is not safe for LGBTQI+ people, and Innocent urges all human rights defenders to oppose the government’s plan. 

 


A woman wearing headphones is sitting on a couch and using a laptop.

We are hiring: Legal and Support Services Assistant

**This opportunity has now closed**

We are recruiting a Legal and Support Services Assistant to act as a first point of contact for the charity and assist the legal and support services.

We have been supporting LGBTQI+ people through the asylum and immigration system and campaigning for their rights since 1993. We now have an opportunity for a Legal and Support Services Assistant who will help ensure smooth delivery and monitoring of our services. You will be the first point of contact for new service users and play a key role in providing the information they need and allocating to the relevant services.

This role will receive full training and support as required to deliver your responsibilities:

  • Provide admin support for the legal and support services teams
  • Answer calls and emails
  • Make appointments for service users or signpost them to other organisations
  • Organise monthly legal advice sessions
  • Input data onto our Salesforce database
  • Write minutes for legal and support service team meetings
  • Assist with running events (e.g. Christmas party)
  • Assist with preparations for training and presentations

 

Our vision is a world where there is equality, dignity, respect and safety for all people in the expression of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Our values are:

  • Safety: We believe everyone should be safe from persecution and safe to be themselves. We strive to create a safe workplace culture, and we place importance on the wellbeing of everyone involved with Rainbow Migration.
  • Integrity: We are thorough and honest in everything we do, and we take responsibility for our actions. We want to be accountable to our communities and those who support us.
  • Belonging: We welcome and include all LGBTQI+ people, and we celebrate and value their range of experience in terms of gender, religion, race, age, disability status and class. We try to remove obstacles to participation, champion equality and promote a sense of family or home through our services.
  • Respect: We believe that every person is equal and deserves the same level of courtesy, care, and attention. We respect the rights, wishes and feelings of our service users, and campaign for their rights to be respected as they go through the asylum and immigration system.

We don’t just accept difference – we celebrate it, we support it, and we thrive on it. We’re proud to be an equal opportunity employer and we value diversity. We do not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, colour, national origin, gender, gender identity sexual orientation, age, marital status, or disability status – simple, we consider all qualified applicants, consistent with any legal requirements.

We welcome applications from candidates with lived experience of going through the UK asylum or immigration system or who have been subject to immigration control, and also people of colour who are currently underrepresented among our staff. We offer a guaranteed interview scheme for anyone considered as disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if they meet the necessary criteria in the person specification.

Owing to the nature of the work, the successful applicant the successful applicant will be required at the point of conditional job offer to disclose all unspent criminal records and subsequently to undergo a basic DBS check. See our website for more information.

Contract type: Permanent

Hours: Full-time (35 hours per week). Working part-time or job-sharing will be considered. Occasional work in the evenings and at weekends may be required but with plenty of notice. Rainbow Migration encourages staff to maintain a good work life balance and has a TOIL system in place.

Salary: Starting at £21,101 with potential annual step increases up to £22,385 (pro rata if working part time), plus statutory employer’s pension contribution. In addition to an annual step increase, the trustees consider giving a separate inflationary increase every April.

Location: Our offices are based in Borough, Central London, and this role would normally be office-based. At the time of posting this advert, all Rainbow Migration staff are working from home due to Covid-19. A mix of working at home and/or the office is likely for the foreseeable future. You must be available to work from our offices in London when face-to-face service delivery resumes, from which time there might also be occasional travel outside London with plenty of notice.

Annual leave: 25 days per year rising after 24 months by 1 day after each year of service to maximum of 28 days per year (pro rata if working part-time).

How to apply:

Closing date: 10 am, Thursday 14 July

Interview dates: TBC

Please read the job description and person specification. If you have any questions about the role or would like to find out more before applying, then you can contact the line manager via recruitment@rainbowmigration.org.uk.

Please email your CV, covering statement, and optional monitoring form to recruitment@rainbowmigration.org.uk. When writing your covering statement, please give examples of how you meet the person specification. In addition to what is on your CV, we want to hear about any relevant skills and experience that demonstrate you meet the necessary criteria for the role, and if you meet any of the advantageous criteria. Skills and experience could be from training, volunteering, interests or life experience. Please make your statement no longer than two A4 pages.

Please also confirm in your statement if you wished to be considered under the guaranteed interview scheme for anyone considered as disabled under the Equality Act 2010 (physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ effect on your ability to do normal daily activities).

Please also state how many hours you wish to work.

If you have questions about the role, please email recruitment@rainbowmigration.org.uk.

 

By submitting an application, you:

  1. Confirm that you have the right to work in the UK and will produce the necessary documentation if you are offered this post.
  2. Declare that to the best of your knowledge and belief, the information provided with your application is true and correct and that you understand that any false information or statement given will justify the dismissal from Rainbow Migration if appointed.
  3. Accept that, if successful, you will be required to disclose all unspent criminal records at the point of conditional job and subsequently to undergo a basic DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check. See here for more details.

 

Privacy Notice: Your privacy and data protection

In order to recruit and manage staff, Rainbow Migration needs to store personal information (data) about all applicants. Rainbow Migration is registered as a “controller of personal data” under the Data Protection Act 2018 with the Information Commissioner. By applying for this role, you agree that we will keep the information on your CV and covering statement. Monitoring information is kept separately and is pseudonymised to avoid identification of applicants. Monitoring information is amalgamated for statistical purposes and the original data then destroyed. Rainbow Migration keeps all personal information safely and securely, and does not share your information with anyone outside Rainbow Migration or any other organisation without your consent. Information is kept for the minimum period necessary which for CVs and covering statements for unsuccessful applicants is 12 months after the conclusion of the recruitment campaign.


A woman writing on a piece of paper.

Open letter to the Foreign Secretary regarding the safety and security of LGBTQI+ Afghans

Dear Foreign Secretary,

We are writing to you with great urgency regarding the safety and security of LGBTQ+ people in Afghanistan who have contacted us and who need protection and safe passage to the UK.

LGBTQ+ people in Afghanistan and their contacts have been reaching out to us at great risk given their vulnerability under the Taliban. We also know that these members of our community are not an exception. We are aware of other LGBTQ+ Afghans who have been seeking the support of civil society in both Australia and the USA. All of these individuals share a grave fear of being early targets of the new regime simply because they are LGBTQ+.

LGBTQ+ Afghans need our support. But they will not be able to benefit from the Government’s evacuation programme unless they receive targeted support.

We write today to call for your leadership in creating the conditions needed for LGBTQ+ Afghans to be evacuated. We request an urgent meeting to share our
insights and support you and your teams to develop an appropriate response that includes LGBTQ+ Afghans as a priority group for assistance immediately.

 

Humanitarian corridors

Like all those seeking to flee, it is clear that robust security efforts are needed for vulnerable people to be able to leave the country to seek safety.

For this reason, we are calling on this government to work in concert with other aligned Governments to open humanitarian corridors for the evacuation of LGBTQ+ people, similar to corridors used by the UK Government in other emergency contexts such as Uganda or the former Yugoslavia. We fear that the withdrawal of those secure passages at an early date leaves no further opportunity for ensuring the security of vulnerable communities, including LGBTQ+ Afghans.

Civil society outside of Afghanistan who are already in touch with those trying to leave could support LGBTQ+ Afghans to make a case for evacuation securely
immediately, enabling them to leave the country while it remains possible.

 

Resettlement

We recognise and welcome the bilateral efforts of the UK in quickly establishing the resettlement programme, but share concerns that the scale of the planned programme does not come close to meeting the protection need. We applaud the government’s commitment to resettling those most vulnerable and we look for your assurances that this will include LGBTQ+ people. It is essential for UNHCR to work with LGBTQ+ civil society organisations to ensure this happens and that any screening process takes this into account the fact that LGBTQ+ people who flee will not be able to readily disclose and evidence their sexual orientation or gender identity.

We hope to meet you urgently to discuss how we can implement support for LGBTQ+ Afghans.

Yours sincerely,

Leila Zadeh (Executive Director, Rainbow Migration)

Nancy Kelley (Chief Executive, Stonewall)


A sign that says departures immigration offices.

Our response to the 'cold-hearted and cruel' Nationality and Borders Bill 

Today the government announced  changes to the asylum system, which include proposals such as: 

  • Housing people in overseas reception centres while their asylum claim is being processed 
  • Requiring claims to be made immediately on arrival and all evidence to be submitted at the beginning of the asylum process 
  • Forcing people in detention centres who want to appeal decisions to refuse them refugee protection to go through a rushed process 
  • Curtailing the right to challenge decisions refusing refugee protection 

Responding to the government’s proposals, Leila Zadeh, Executive Director of Rainbow Migration, said:

“It’s already difficult for LGBTQI+ people who are fleeing persecution to get safety in the UK, and these cruel proposals will make it even harder. Many of them will have been hiding their sexual orientation or gender identity for a long time, and this government is asking them to overcome a lifetime of discrimination and fear to disclose that they are LGBTQI+ to a complete stranger immediately on arrival in a new country and expecting them to provide evidence at the same time.”

“Being shipped off to processing centres abroad will be tantamount to torture for LGBTQI+ people. As a form of institutional accommodation for large numbers of people, these centres will be fertile ground for homophobia, biphobia and transphobia to run rampant. The people housed there will be even more isolated and at risk, and unable to receive any support from charities like us.” 

 “Keeping people in such a dangerous environment will force them into the closet for their own protection. That doesn't help when you have to ‘prove' you are LGBTQI+ in order to be granted protection. This essentially amounts to a double punishment for LGBTQI+ people seeking safety."

“These proposals make an already ineffective and inhumane system even more cold-hearted and cruel. This government should focus on creating a kind and compassionate asylum system, rather than on causing further distress to people who are only looking for a place to live in safety and dignity.” 


Rainbow migration logo on a white background.

The UK Gay and Lesbian Immigration Group is now called Rainbow Migration

On International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, we are excited to announce our new name: Rainbow Migration.

Our new brand marks a new period in our future, while focusing on the issues that matter most to us: supporting LGBTQI+ people through the asylum and immigration system.

Over the past 28 years, we have helped thousands of LGBTQI+ people live safe and fulfilling lives in the UK. However, our former name no longer reflected who we are as an organisation that welcomes all of the LGBTQI+ community. In Rainbow Migration and in the warm and vibrant colours of our new brand, we have found a name and visual identity that reflects what we do and who we are, and embraces all the communities that we work for and support.

Alongside our new name and logo – which have been developed over the past two years with extensive consultation with over 500 supporters and stakeholders – we are launching our brand new website. We hope you will find it easier to use and full of valuable information for LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum and couples making immigration applications.

Our new logo combines two themes: a rainbow and an arrow. The rainbow is a symbol of freedom in many cultures and reflects the idea of hope and possibilities that are out there. It is also the most widely recognised LGBTQI+ symbol in the world. The arrow symbolises migration and movement. It is also a nod to our previous logo, linking the old with the new.

These two powerful symbols together reflect the story of Rainbow Migration – we are proud to be an organisation that supports LGBTQI+ people on their journey to a new life. We are ready to move forward, inspired by our fresh look and our new name.


A woman is looking at her phone while another woman is sitting next to her.

LGBTQI+ People Seeking Asylum and HIV: ‘I’d rather deal with a real elephant!’

We work with people from all around the world and wellbeing is the focus of our support services. Everyone has a different experience of HIV but a common theme has been that HIV support and prevention services are a territory that are not always known and come with their own set of risks. ‘We should talk about the elephant in the room,’ I’d said, in one of our support groups discussing being safe in Queer spaces. Once I’d explained what the saying meant and focused on the topic, our service users seemed more daunted to discuss HIV than if an elephant had been in the room. Some of our service users actually curled up on their chairs or hugged the person next to them. ‘I’d rather deal with a real elephant!’ one said.

A fundamental lack of understanding and fear of contacting the NHS could have massive implications on someone’s health and wellbeing. Our service users have many fears about accessing a service: determining if it is an LGBTQI+ friendly space as well as a safe space for people seeking asylum. Add to that the concern that they may see someone from their home community in the building, or, if attending somewhere local, be seen accessing the building. Already, before they have even walked through the door, there are many anxieties and complications.

We know that GP services are available to people seeking asylum, but this is not always the message reception staff in GP surgeries and walk-in centres communicate to vulnerable individuals. This leaves those same vulnerable people even more confused and with a reinforced fear that they should not be accessing a service. We know that those who have suffered trauma can shy away from advocating for themselves and sometimes feel they don’t want to be a ‘burden’ to the country where they are claiming asylum. This is dangerous breeding ground for denial or for not getting the help someone needs.

What about people seeking asylum already living with HIV? They have many of the fears the others have plus the weight it bears on their support mechanisms. How can they possibly have open and honest conversations about their status when their minds are already filled with concerns like: if my partner finds out, he will dump me…or, if my friend finds out, they will not let me sleep on their sofa… or, if the rest of the house finds or opens a letter, I will be targeted…

One of our team supported someone who did not want to take any anti-viral medicine as their partner would find out about their status and they relied on the partner to translate for them. This obviously put the individual and the partner at great risk. We had several challenging conversations and helped them get some support from PositivelyUK and Doctors of the World.

I offered one-to-one sessions with a young man who contracted the virus from someone he met on an app. He was very angry and felt numb and unable to communicate his feelings and continued to engage in risky behaviours. I did some work on anger management and voicing his trauma and we signposted him to a local mental health charity but he said he felt guilty that he had ‘betrayed his freedom’; he was claiming asylum and now he had HIV. When I told him that he could live a relatively normal life with medicine in the UK, he was confused and perplexed; he was still holding onto misconceptions of the virus from back home and the practices to cure it there, which had triggered him.

So how do we help people seeking asylum navigate the services available? Have conversations, talk about the difficult things, recognise the common themes and that which is difficult as well as the relevant solutions needed. Normalise their fears. After all, these are many of the fears and concerns young people coming out have.

Some of our service users organised a day trip to access a sexual health clinic where they could get advice about PEP and PrEP that was far away from their community on the other side of London. In our support group meeting that week we practised what they might ask about. In the evening I received a phone call to say it had gone well and they felt empowered to access somewhere like this and take the reins.

A support service like ours offers a range of support – if you meet a person seeking asylum who is LGBTQI+, the single most important thing you can do is to advise they engage with a specific support service such as ours. LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum don’t always have peers who can support and challenge them when needed. I am in regular contact with places like Dean Street and Mortimer Market (leading sexual health services and HIV support for the LGBTQI+ community) and they are aware that a little extra time and support can go a long way with people seeing asylum. We’ve even had referrals from these services for people in need of a lawyer.

I remember at the end of that support group meeting where I addressed the elephant in the room, after I had spoken a service user turned around and said: ‘You mean…we must invite the elephant in and have a cup of tea? Let it all be ok?’ They had summed it up perfectly: keep talking, keep supporting, keep empowering.