To mark International Women’s Day 2023, we are delighted to publish our first ever report on the particular experiences of lesbian and bisexual women seeking safety.

The research was co-ordinated with peer researchers, Raolat and Olivia, from the Rainbow Sisters, our solidarity group for LGBTQ+ refugee and asylum-seeking women and non-binary individuals.

The new report, See Us, Believe Us, Stand With Us: The experiences of lesbian and bisexual women seeking asylum in the UK, shows that lesbian and bisexual women who have sought asylum in the UK are subject to further struggle, fear and intimidation within the asylum process.

Seeking asylum has never been easy for our Sisters. Through this research we’ve seen that our individual experiences of fear, intimidation and struggle are part of a wider pattern of hostility that LBT women and non-binary people seeking asylum are subjected to. Here in the UK, we face the triple discrimination of racism, sexism and homophobia. The Home Office routinely disbelieves our stories and denies us protection.

Read the report here.

  • Twenty-four lesbian and bisexual women who claimed asylum in the UK due to fear of persecution because of their sexual orientation took part in the research, who fled from Nigeria (8), Uganda (5), Cameroon (4), Pakistan (2), Kenya (2), Iraq (1), Senegal (1) and Ghana (1).
  • Over 80% of women did not claim asylum within the first month of entering the UK, experiencing multiple, overlapping barriers to disclosure:
    • 14 out of 18 women were unaware of their right to claim asylum on the basis of sexual orientation;
    • 12 were too traumatised by past experiences;
    • 7 feared reprisals or exclusion from diaspora communities;
    • 6 needed time to fully understand and accept their sexual orientation before seeking protection.
  • Women experienced a lack of quality legal aid:
    • 3 women did not have legal representation at the time of their asylum interview;
    • Only 13 women had legal aid lawyers, and not one woman described their support as ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’.
  • Women were often disbelieved by the Home Office:
    • 11 women were refused asylum. In 9 of these cases, the Home Office did not believe their sexual orientation;
    • Of the 7 women who had a form of leave to remain at the time of participation, all had to make a successful fresh claim application before being correctly recognised as a refugee and given the protection they need.

The Rainbow Sisters and Women for Refugee Women call on the Government to meaningfully engage with LGBTQ+ women about their experiences in order to create a safe and supportive asylum support; to ensure that decision-making is centred on belief and fairness; and to remove changes introduced by the Nationality and Borders Act and new proposed legislation, the Illegal Migration Bill (7th March 2023), that will cause further harm and risk wrongful refusals of protection.

Members of Rainbow Sisters share their hopes and wishes for change:

The Home Office should believe our claims instead of treating us as liars. It takes so much to actually open up to someone about your fears.

We need more people in the Home Office who understand us, staff who have knowledge about the countries we come from and our cultures. 

Think about our mental health. 

Read the report here.

Click to tweet your MP to ask them to read our report and attend our parliamentary event – it takes 30 seconds!

Alphonsine Kabagabo, Director, Women for Refugee Women, says:

For years, Women for Refugee Women has been a home to the Rainbow Sisters – a solidarity group for LGBTQ+ women who are seeking safety in the UK. Because of their sexuality or gender identity, they’ve faced numerous hurdles to navigating the already complex and hostile asylum system. I hope that this research helps to raise awareness of their particular experiences and leads to the much-needed change so that they can live safely and freely in the UK.

Priscilla Dudhia, Campaigns and Advocacy Manager and author of the research, at Women for Refugee Women, says:

This report highlights the serious hurdles faced by lesbian and bisexual women seeking asylum, many of whom escape to the UK after suffering both gender-based and homophobic abuse. The findings provide yet more evidence of the urgent need for an asylum system that supports women to share their stories and treats those stories with belief.  However, less than a year since the Nationality and Borders Act became law, we are so far off from that vision, with more draconian, anti-refugee legislation being proposed by the Government just yesterday. The changes introduced by both the NAB Act and the new bill will only strengthen the culture of disbelief. What more evidence do we need of this culture before our politicians decide that enough is enough? Women like ‘Anu’ and Augusta deserve safety and a shot at rebuilding their lives.

Nikki Ray, Rainbow Sisters Coordinator, Women for Refugee Women says:

I am so proud that today on International Women’s Day we are highlighting the experiences of lesbian and bisexual (LB) asylum seeking women whose stories are so seldom heard.

Many LB women who come to the UK seeking asylum have fled homophobic persecution and gender-based violence. Yet instead of finding safety in the UK, are met with a culture of disbelief from the Home Office and forced to “prove” their sexual orientation. This research exposes the triple discrimination of homophobia, sexism and racism which LB women experience in the UK asylum system.

Contributors to the report are members of Rainbow Sisters, a solidarity group and essential safe and supportive space for lesbian, bisexual and trans (LBT) refugee and asylum-seeking women, where they can truly be themselves. It is so important that the voices and experiences of the Rainbow Sisters are heard to instigate much needed change in the asylum system which is currently failing and retraumatizing LBT women.

For media enquiries, please contact our Communications Manager, Carenza.