Even if their paperwork is in order and portfolio packed with evidence, a Muslim LGBTI refugee may struggle to gain asylum in Germany.
But if they act in a ‘flamboyant’ or ‘outspoken’ way during their asylum interview, and say their country is ‘backwards,’ they’re more likely to find their application granted.
This is the damning conclusion of a report by Dr Mengia Tschalaer, who found that Muslim queer refugees are more likely to be granted asylum if they conform to Western stereotypes.
What does the study suggest?
The study, published in the journal Ethnic and Racial Studies, found that LGBTI asylum applicants reported they were often expected to be ‘flamboyant’ and ‘outspoken’ in their asylum interview.
And that overall, asylum seekers were more successful if they could prove their ‘gayness’ by being involved in queer activism in their country of origin, visiting LGBTI bars and discos, being members of LGBTI groups, and attending Pride marches.
They must also prove that being LGBTI could prove ‘fateful and irreversible,’ according to German asylum law codes.
Moreover, the majority of successful applicants she found were from middle to upper-class backgrounds. Many were assigned male at birth.
Seekers were quizzed on their sexual history, study claims
Refugees claimed were also quizzed about their sexual histories (which is against EU law) and those not open about their identity struggled considerably.
‘LGBTQI+ asylum seekers who felt forced to hide their sexuality and/or gender identity, and who felt uncomfortable talking about it were usually rejected,’ said Tschalaer in a press release.
‘As were those who were married or had children in their countries of origin.
‘This was either because they were not recognised or believed as being LGBTQI+, or because they were told to hide in their country of origin since they had not come out yet.’
Finally, she found decision-makers tended to favor seekers who portrayed Germany as ‘liberal,’ while depicting their home country as ‘backwards.’
How did the study come about?
What first drew Tschalaer to the project was curiously. One she directed towards the intersection of Muslim, LGBTI asylum seekers and how they navigate the application process.
‘We have a tendency [in Europe] to paint a picture of Muslim men particularly as a threat to our society,’ she told Gay Star News.
‘And the majority of LGBTI seekers are men, and also of a Muslim background.’
For the project, Tschalaer, an anthropologist at the University of Bristol in England, interviewed 15 LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers from Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, and Pakistan.
She also spoke to asylum lawyers and judges from Berlin and Cologne, as well as representatives of LGBTI refugee counselling centers in Cologne, Munich, Heidelberg, and Mannheim.
‘98% of black sub-Saharan women are rejected’
Out of her conversations, she found that lesbian women from sub-Saharan Africa suffered harshly, with the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees rejecting 98% of black women.
‘And that’s a very, very high rate when you compare to the medium rate of around 60% for that category of seekers,’ she said.
‘The stories that the seekers tell really have to convince decision-makers that they’re lesbian, bi, or gender-nonconforming based on their biography.
‘Particularity for women, their biographies do not speak clearly to a very specific idealization of a “lesbian life.”‘
Non-binary refugee rejected for wearing a dress
This also applied to non-binary asylum seekers, too.
According to one seeker’s testimony in the study, a decison-maker asked a refugee from Tunisia’s friend to walk in front of them ‘so they could asses their gender identity.’
Another non-binary friend of the refugee ‘work make-up and a dress for the asylum interview and got rejected because their appearance was deemed as not credible.’
‘These women are totally invisible’
Furthermore, Tschalaer found many queer women experienced domestic violence from partners because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Some trafficked minutes after they touch ground in the airport.
‘There a lot of violence in these stories, and they’re not a “gay story” that [decision-makers] are probably looking for that’s easy to understand for them.
‘These women are totally invisible in the legal system and totally unrecognizable.
‘They are the ones more likely to be deported. To go back into a very precarious situation.’
As a result, many asylum seekers are reluctant to speak about their experiences. Many being too psychologically painful for them to recount to decision-makers.
Asylum seeking: In numbers
Between 2015 and 2018, nearly 1.6 million refugees have been registered in Germany, according to records from the United Nations.
And according to Lesbian, Gay, Association Germany in Cologne, out of these refugees, approximately 60,000 are queer individuals from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, Uganda, and Algeria.
However, numbers of LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers in Germany are difficult to obtain because the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees does not separately register LGBTI asylum cases.
What is the asylum seeking process?
The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees in Germany are the gatekeepers to the country.
Once a refugee enters the border and registers at the Federal Republic of Germany, authorities provide accommodation.
The Federal Office assess the application, which includes identity documents, according to the department’s procedure guide.
If the application is granted, seekers then go onto their personal interview. This sees decision-makers greet seekers, who are often paired with an interpreter, too.
‘The objective of the interviews is to learn of the individual reasons for flight, to obtain more information and to resolve any contradictions,’ the guide stated.
‘To this end, the decision-makers are familiar with the circumstances prevailing in the applicants countries of origin.’
The Federal Office then decides whether to grant asylum based on the interview and the seeker’s portfolio of documents and evidence.
Gay Star News contacted the Federal Office for comment.
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