Some people may find the topics discussed in this article triggering. This article reflects people's stories and the hardships they have faced. If you are an LGBTQI+ person seeking asylum and would like to access emotional support please contact us.
Nisha, a trans woman from India, was finally granted leave to remain in the UK in 2019 after over five years of fighting the Home Office. Nisha recounts how dehumanising the asylum process was for her, the lack of safety she felt whilst in detention and the importance of the support she received from Rainbow Migration.
Nisha grew up in Chennai, a Southern Indian city, where discriminatory attitudes towards LGBTQI+ people are the norm, particularly for trans people. Nisha says “it is not acceptable in Indian society to be trans.” She knew she couldn’t have studied, found a mainstream job or been accepted into society as a trans woman in Chennai.
However, Nisha knew she was trans from an early age, she came out to her parents at age fourteen. They reacted very negatively, locking her in the house and refusing to let her out. They forced Nisha to undergo conversion therapy, a practice which aims to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity and has been labelled as “degrading” and “inhumane” by UN experts. Her parents’ rejection and societal discrimination, Nisha explains, “were the reasons I had to leave India. I didn’t have a home that accepted me as a trans person.”
Nisha left India to come to the UK both to study for her Master’s degree and begin her transition. She was enjoying her studies, began hormone therapy and was starting to feel more able to be herself. Nisha soon graduated and got put onto a new visa which she thought enabled her to work in the UK. However, it did not and Nisha was detained by the Home Office for breaking the terms of her visa.
Nisha was detained in Scotland, it was there she learnt she could claim asylum. “Before” she says “I never knew that I could claim asylum on the basis of gender identity”.
She knew she could not return to India. Her family had made violent threats against her, and she was scared about what would happen if she went back. She would also not have access to the medical care she needed. Instead, Nisha claimed asylum. She was released from detention but claiming asylum was not a quick or easy process for her.
Nisha lived on her friends’ sofa for 2 years while she waited for her asylum decision. When her initial claim was refused, she then went through the process of appeal. This time was very difficult for Nisha, she says: “I had to revert back to where I was. I couldn’t work. I had to hide my identity, because my friends who are helping if they knew my trans identity, they would not help me.”
When Nisha’s appeal was dismissed by the Tribunal, she was sent back to detention, “the second time I got detained,” Nisha says “I suffered a lot.” Nisha describes detention as “horrible,” categorising her experience in detention as both unsafe and dangerous.
Similar to many other trans people entering detention, the Home Office failed to recognise Nisha’s correct gender identity and she was detained in a male facility. Research by Rainbow Migration and Stonewall has found that LGBTQI+, and particularly trans people, face systematic discrimination, harassment and violence in detention, both from staff and other detainees. This was true for Nisha too, Nisha says that for trans people “when you are in detention centres, you are always vulnerable”.
Nisha felt scared, she says, “I did not have a shower for the first week because it was an open shower. So someone could see. I was on hormones before I was detained...So it was not good for me to expose myself. I had to hide.”
While she was in detention Nisha heard about Rainbow Migration. She got in contact and accessed Rainbow Migration emotional support, this was a vital lifeline to her when she was feeling her most vulnerable. Rainbow Migration (at that time called UKLGIG) also helped Nisha find a lawyer, she says “without UKLGIG it would not have been possible for me to find a lawyer that was aware of LGBT issues and understood my case as a LGBT person.”
Even with a specialist lawyer Nisha’s case went on for a further 3 years. Nisha made a fresh claim, arguing she could not safely return to India as a transgender woman. Her fresh claim was refused again by the Home Office and she had to embark on further litigation. This too was eventually refused as while Nisha’s gender identity was accepted, it was not accepted that she would face persecution in India and so she was not recognised as a refugee. However, the courts found that removing her from the UK would be a breach of her rights under Article 8 of European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to private and family life. As a result, Nisha was eventually successful and after years of waiting, she was granted discretionary leave to remain.
Now that Nisha has regularised her immigration status in the UK, she recently got a new job and has just received a letter informing her that she can begin the next stage of her transition. “There’s still more to come”, Nisha says “but I’ve come so far compared to where I was… I didn’t even know this was a possibility when I was younger. It makes me feel really happy, I’m out and I can do whatever I want.”