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Report finds a majority of LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers in Northern Ireland face homophobic abuse in asylum accommodation


Survey by Law Centre NI and Rainbow Refugees NI reveals high levels of homophobic bullying, harassment and violence

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A joint report published last month by Law Centre Northern Ireland (NI) and Rainbow Refugees NI found that a majority of LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers in Northern Ireland have experienced violence or abuse in their asylum accommodation.

Report coverThe 32-page report, "We are getting hurt" Safe accommodation for LGBTQIA+ people seeking sanctuary in Northern Ireland, can be downloaded here.

Law Centre NI and Rainbow Refugees NI surveyed 23 asylum seekers and former asylum seekers for their report. The report is also informed by the Law Centre's asylum casework experience and by conversations with a range of stakeholders.

The report finds: "LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers in Northern Ireland face significant rates of bullying, harassment, physical violence, and sexual violence. Four out of five survey respondents experienced some form of abuse or violence from other refugees or asylum seekers. Of those who experienced abuse, the majority (79%), experienced it within their asylum accommodation.

"Respondents were asked to list the type of abuse they had experienced. Two thirds reported homophobic name-calling and insults (65%), with nearly half reporting more severe bullying and harassment (45%). A quarter reported intimidation and threats (26%). One third reported suffering physical violence (30%). A quarter reported sexual assault (26%). One survey respondent simply stated: 'We are getting hurt'."

As the report explains, the asylum support process in Northern Ireland is managed by Migrant Help and asylum accommodation is provided by Mears.

While the report found that most victims reported the homophobic abuse to the police or to Mears or Migrant Help, the reporting process did not prove to be an effective remedy for the large majority of victims. Only 21% of survey respondents felt that the issue was dealt with appropriately.

"The comparatively weak procedures for responding to incidents of homophobic abuse is in contrast to the processes to protect victims from incidents of racism or domestic abuse that occurs within asylum accommodation," the report noted.

Law Centre NI and Rainbow Refugees NI further noted: "Overall, our research shows that it is rare that victims of homophobic abuse are relocated to safe accommodation. It is only when there have been multiple incidents of homophobic abuse and/or where there is sustained lobbying from independent support organisations that relocation occurs. The researchers noted that when confronted with situations of homophobic abuse, Mears staff often try to mediate a solution. While this is undoubtedly done in good faith, it is extremely unlikely that mediation is appropriate given the high risk of harm (note that mediation would not be considered acceptable in situations of domestic abuse)."

As a result of their findings, Law Centre NI and Rainbow Refugees NI make nine recommendations in the report, including two practical recommendations to protect LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers in Northern Ireland. First, that LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers can avail of a 'safe house' and, second, that victims of homophobic abuse can immediately and safely be accommodated away from the perpetrator of abuse.

Liz Griffith from the Migration Justice Project at Law Centre NI commented: "LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers deserve the chance to rebuild their lives and feel safe in their own homes. We are optimistic that the recommendations in this report will bring about tangible and progressive change and we look forward to working collectively with Mears, Migrant Help, and others to ensure the safety and wellbeing of LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers who have sought sanctuary in Northern Ireland."