For more than ten years, Together With Refugees member organisation Micro Rainbow has been supporting the integration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) people who flee persecution and reach the UK in search of safety. Micro Rainbow employs a holistic approach to integration which is person-centred and based on three pillars: safe housing, social inclusion, and employability support. These programmes ensure that LGBTQI refugees are not only safe but also able to live fulfilling, independent lives.
Safe housing – why was it needed?
When LGBTQI asylum seekers are placed in Home Office initial accommodation, their sexuality, gender identity or intersex status often means that they are still unsafe and at risk of discrimination. Many go on to suffer abuse in accommodation from other refugees who may even come from the same countries they are escaping from. Alana, a trans asylum seeker from Malaysia, made herself homeless to escape persecution:
“I had to hop couches and overstay my welcome at friends’ houses and kept worrying I could end up homeless, like so many LGBTQI asylum seekers do… I was incredibly lucky that Micro Rainbow was there at the right time.”
Micro Rainbow created the housing scheme to respond to the needs of people like Alana providing safe, welcoming, and inclusive housing for people fleeing persecution. We now have houses in London, the West Midlands, and the Northwest of England. As of 2023, Micro Rainbow is now able to offer 29,000 safe bed nights, or places for 80 LGBTQI asylum seekers, at any given time.
Social inclusion – how it builds communities
LGBTQI migrants face additional challenges to integration not faced by the general refugee population. They can be shunned by their own families, ethnic and religious communities in the UK. As a result, they are extremely isolated and more vulnerable to poverty and destitution having no one to turn to. Micro Rainbow’s Social Inclusion programme of regular events and activities creates a new, welcoming community.
Angela found the events and activities provided with a space for making connections and building friendships:
“Coming to Micro Rainbow opened up my eyes and showed me that I am not alone, that all of us are here because we have been persecuted for who we are. Together we are able to support each other”
Social inclusion events provide a welcome escape from the day-to-day realities of life as an asylum seeker. They are also a chance to access spaces – such as museums, theatres, nature reserves – that many would not have the confidence (or funds) to do otherwise.
Moving On: taking the next steps
Gaining official refugee status is a moment of celebration. Status means a person can work; they are no longer in limbo. This is the time when life begins again.
In reality, the transition from being an asylum seeker to becoming a refugee is frequently problematic. Once LGBTQI asylum seekers are granted refugee status they can feel lost and alone. At the same time, this is often when they first begin to deal with the persecution they faced and the resulting pain and loss.
Micro Rainbow’s Moving On programme and employability skills workshops help LGBTQI refugees through this stage, with one-to-one support, mentoring and employability skills opportunities. The programme’s different strands help LGBTQI overcome the intersecting barriers of refugee status, race, sexuality, and gender. These are in addition to confidence and self-esteem issues, lack of UK-based work experience, and unfamiliarity with the UK jobs market.
The Government is determined to make the UK as hostile to refugees and asylum seekers as possible. In 2023 we have already seen the draconian Illegal Migration Bill passed, as well as renewed commitments to the Rwanda plan. Despite this, we know that the vast majority of British people empathise with the plight of refugees, and are proud of the UK’s long history of welcoming people fleeing persecution. As members of Together with Refugees’ coalition, we are committed to highlighting this tradition of welcoming people, and to campaigning for a kinder and more effective approach to supportive refugees.
Learn more about how you can support LGBTQI refugees and asylum seekers here.