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.
Samir*, a refugee from Kosovo, has now been living in the UK for over 10 years. He says “I would never in my wildest dreams have thought that it was possible. I escaped a country... and now I’m graduating, I’m volunteering for [Rainbow Migration], the charity that helped me, and I get to be myself… I’m not afraid to be myself anymore.”
When Samir was coming to terms with his sexuality as a gay man in Kosovo, he knew there was no way that he could live openly in his home country. Still to this day Kosovo is recognised by human rights organisations as incredibly dangerous for LGBTQI+ people. “I felt like every day I had to look over my shoulder because you never knew what could happen. “
Samir recounts how commonplace it was for LGBTQI+ people to experience hostility and violence. He remembers one of his friends being attacked and severely beaten when it was found out he was gay. He was kicked out of his home by his family and forced to flee. However, he couldn’t report the crimes to the police, seek help or even medical assistance because of fear of the authorities. “Even if you get beaten up for being gay”, Samir says, “you can’t report it. Nothing will be done, you will be made fun of, or maybe made a victim again by the police.”
However, despite the real danger that Samir faced if people in his country of origin knew about his sexuality, Samir secretly joined LGBTQI+ organisations. Even if he risked being found out, Samir knew that being gay was an essential part of who he was.
Samir himself was attacked because of his sexual orientation. He says, “I didn’t know my attackers, I don’t know if they knew I was gay or just assumed I was gay. I felt like it was going to be my turn now to be attacked and for my life to be in danger if I keep staying there.”
When Samir was offered work experience outside of Kosovo not long after his attack, he took it. Securing a visa to leave Kosovo was very difficult at the time and he knew he had to take the opportunity to leave. “I had fully realised by that time I was a gay man and that my life is not going to be easy living in Kosovo,” Samir says.
However, Samir didn't know much about claiming asylum and didn’t know you could claim asylum on the grounds of your sexual orientation. Samir overstayed his visa in the UK rather than go back to Kosovo and was arrested by immigration officials on a bus in London. “It was very scary...I remember them cuffing me, I felt very vulnerable. I felt like a criminal but without having done a crime,” says Samir.
It was there that police officers told Samir he had a right to claim asylum and where he first asked for asylum. Samir says, “I remember crying a lot that day in the cell because I had never been in prison before. I had never been in a cell before, or even in a police station. I just remember being scared and also worried that they are going to take me to a detention centre.”
Samir remembers how hard it was to take the first steps in his asylum process. He had to recount the traumatic things that had happened to him in Kosovo. He had also never openly discussed the fact he was a gay man before: “It was the first time talking about my sexuality...just saying aloud the word gay in Albanian, it was very surreal. I knew that although I was scared, this was my only chance for me to tell my story... and if I didn’t, I knew that my case would be dismissed and they would send me back.”
It was after claiming asylum that Samir found Rainbow Migration. He still didn’t know much about claiming asylum or what to expect from the interviews. He attended a Rainbow Migration monthly meeting and met lawyers, support workers and other LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum. Samir was very nervous about attending his first meeting, he had been hiding his sexual orientation for most of his life. However, he found support and a community that he is still part of to this day. Rainbow Migration “helped me come to terms with who I was and seeing other people in the same situation as mine helped me understand that I’m not alone,” Samir says.
Rainbow Migration also found Samir a lawyer that understood his case and the sensitivity of his claim. When Samir’s asylum claim was initially rejected, they prepared his appeal and helped him so he was eventually granted refugee status.
Now, Samir has been in the UK for over 12 years. He is completing his studies, has found a community of LGBTQI+ friends and volunteers in his spare time for Rainbow Migration. Samir says when he meets asylum seekers who are attending a Rainbow Migration meeting for the first time he tells them “although you feel like today there is no hope...I have been in the same situation as you, and look how it turned out today.”
*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the interviewee.