A lesbian refugee couple living in Belgium has revealed they have been spat on, threatened and abused in an asylum centre. Lisa, from Mexico, and Goga, from Kosovo, met online in 2014 and fled to Belgium to finally meet earlier this year. Goga was fleeing a dangerous family situation in Kosovo. Her father had found out she was gay and had threatened to kill her. Goga was unable to obtain a visa for Mexico, as Kosovo is not recognised as an independent country under Mexican law, so the couple decided to fly to Belgium on a travel visa.
Though it cost them, the couple spent the first few nights in a hotel in Antwerp. Lisa told Gay Star News that “after all those years, we wanted to be together undisturbed”. When they could no longer afford to live in the hotel, Lisa and Goga applied for asylum. They did not hide their relationship status for fear they might be separated, and so were moved to Kapellen, an asylum centre in Antwerp.
The women described their stay in Kapellen as “the two worst months of our lives”. They were subjected to homophobic abuse from other residents including verbal threatening, chasing and physical abuse. Some residents spat at them. They were excluded from communal areas, and at one point, Lisa was unable to shower in peace, as another woman pounded on the shower door, shouting at her.
Their room was far away from the employees and so if they were threatened at night, staff would arrive too late. The couple requested to be transferred to another centre but they have been denied twice.
LGBT+ people are offered very little protection in asylum centres. Remy Bonny, a political scientist, told Gay Star News that Belgian authorities “deal with LGBTI refugees the same way as other refugees” and that “tackling homophobia is obviously not the priority by the current Belgian government”.
While Belgium is a largely LGBT+ friendly country, the same cannot be said for asylum centres. A similar problem exists in direct provision in Ireland where LGBT+ asylum seekers face harassment from some members of the same communities they fled in the first place. Just last month a trans woman named Sylvia died in a centre in Galway. She had been placed in a men-only centre. The Movement of Asylum Seekers has urged the Reception and Integration Agency to consider this issue in the future.
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