LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Sami, an intersex asylum seeker in Britain, used to be gripped with fear at bedtime.
The slender and feminine El Salvadorian had almost got used to incessant verbal abuse but having to share rooms with other male asylum seekers was what Sami feared for the most.
“I was scared to death,” said Sami, 20, who arrived in Britain in 2016 and was first housed in temporary accommodation in the northern cities of Manchester and Liverpool with other asylum seekers.
“It was hard to be sharing with another male whom I didn’t know and especially because I am a bit feminine. All that time it was at the back of my head, who is going to be coming into the room? You could be asleep and just get attacked.”
Intersex people are born with sex characteristics that do not fit typical notions of male or female bodies. Up to 1.7 percent of people are born with intersex traits, according to the United Nations.
Sami, who asked to use a pseudonym, is one of the more than 3,500 people who claimed asylum in Britain based on their sexuality, gender identity or intersex status between 2015 and 2017, according to the Home Office (interior ministry).
Sami faced threats and discrimination in El Salvador, a conservative Catholic country where gay sex is not illegal but lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTi) people endure harassment and violence.
They face rocketing levels of violence from criminal gangs and members of the security forces, rights group Amnesty International said last November.
In more than 70 countries being LGBTi is not safe, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), a federation of national and local organisations dedicated to achieving equal rights LGBTi people.
Even though Britain is more tolerant, LGBTi asylum seekers still face discrimination, threats and even violent attacks, said Sebastian Rocca, chief executive of Micro Rainbow International (MRI), a charity working to eliminate discrimination and poverty among LGBTi people.
“One of the problems that LGBTi asylum seekers and refugees face is that because of their sexuality they are extremely isolated and vulnerable,” Rocca said.
Lack of safe housing is a widespread problem as they are often placed in housing with people from their own countries, or with those who are anti-gay because of their religious and cultural backgrounds.
“The majority of LGTBi asylum seekers do face some violence or abuse, whether that’s physical, sexual or psychological abuse,” Rocca told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Such abuse reawakens previous traumas. MRI’s clients have reported experiencing the same fears they felt in their home countries, Rocca said.
A PLACE TO CALL HOME
MRI set up Britain’s first safe house for LGBTi refugees and asylum seekers last October and has since opened a second one.
Apart from safe accommodation, residents are provided with psychological support, life-coaching and business training.
Sami moved in last autumn and, for the first time in years, feels safe and at home.