By Jason Thomas-Fournillier for Pride Month 2024

“Having been granted asylum is a life-changing event for me after ten years of fighting for it.”

Dear gentle reader after many years of uncertainty, fear, hardship, I was granted asylum in the UK this year, finally I have the opportunity to rebuild my life in safety and security. This momentous event marks the beginning of a new chapter for me but it also brings with it a new set of challenges and opportunities.

When I made the decision to leave my native country of Trinidad & Tobago, it was not a hard decision for me to make. After years of suffering personal, professional discrimination and violence, if one must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep. Leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can and though took two years of being financially frugal to do so, patience was one of many hurdles I had to get over.

Jason Fournillier smiling to the camera

If I wanted to be free to be me, I had to leave and so I did. I arrived in the UK 2014 I stayed in Deptford, South East London, briefly in a hostel before running out of money where I started sleeping rough on the streets. I lived in London for two years whilst my asylum claim and accommodation were processing, I started volunteering at Deptford Reach which is now known as Thames Reach.

I was taken in by a great human being, Tina, who has been the family I’ve made. With her assistance I was able to fast track my destitution application with the Home Office. I was dispersed to Birmingham in a temporary accommodation for two months, then fortunately I was given a room in shared house accommodation in Leeds.

In January 2019 I moved to Doncaster, where I have remained, as a queer asylum seeker and an expert by experience in the asylum community, as I wanted to do more.

One of the many barriers and hurdles I encountered was the ever changing policy asylum seekers having right to work along with for a queer asylum seeker living in an accommodation with people with whom I didn’t feel safe, who viewed my sexual orientation as perverse. Gentle reader there were hard days and then, there were days that left my memory. I focused on my voluntary work and understanding the queer dynamics of the UK which kept me grounded.

No matter how much the sky above me is grey, and the ground shakes beneath my feet. I still stand stiff in between never questioned my worth never doubted my beliefs whilst going hurdles that were in front of me.

In fact, in 2021 I started my own community group to assist other queer people seeking asylum like me in Doncaster, to grow our diverse communities.

“If I wanted to be free to be me, I had to leave and so I did.”

Life after being granted refugee status

One of the first things that happens after a person is granted asylum is that one is able to secure stable housing. With refugee status, you are entitled to government assistance and support in finding a permanent place to live. This stability provides a sense of security and allows me to start building a new life here in the UK.

Another important step for people after being granted asylum is finding employment. Many have valuable skills and experience that we are eager to put to use in our new home, but finding a job can be challenging due to language barriers, lack of connections. Hence integration is vital within ones community with asylum status, I am now eligible to work legally in the UK and can begin the process of securing employment that matches my qualifications and interests.

After being granted asylum, many people also have the opportunity to pursue education and training opportunities that were previously out of reach. With refugee status, you are eligible for financial aid and scholarships to attend college or vocational training programs, allowing them to further develop their skills and pursue our career goals. Education is a powerful tool for empowerment and integration and after being granted refugee status, people can now take advantage of these opportunities to build a brighter future for themselves and their families.

Jason Fournillier smiling to the camera

One of the most important aspects of life after being granted asylum is the opportunity to finally feel safe and secure.

Queer refugees have fled persecution, violence, and war in their home countries, and being granted asylum allows us to live without fear of being deported or persecuted. This sense of safety and security is invaluable and allows us to focus on rebuilding our lives and contributing to our new communities.

However, life after being granted asylum is not without its challenges. Queer people often face barriers to integration, including language barriers, cultural differences, and discrimination. Many also struggle with trauma and mental health issues as a result of their experiences in their home countries and during their journey to safety. It is crucial for the government, NGOs and communities to provide support and resources to help queer asylum seekers overcome these challenges and rebuild their lives successfully.

“Having been granted asylum is a life-changing event for me after years fighting for it.”

I will end in saying this, having been granted asylum is a life-changing event for me after ten years of fighting for it (note from the editor: Whilst there are currently extensive delays in the asylum system, ten years is an unusually long time and the average waiting time for an initial decision on an asylum case is much shorter). This marks the beginning of a new chapter in my life, with stable housing, employment opportunities, education, training opportunities and a sense of safety and security.