After arriving inGreece, people seeking asylum on the grounds of their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and/or sex characteristics (SOGIESC) are compelled to continue concealing their orientation and/or identity whilst residing in refugee camps. Compelled concealment in this context is a direct result of the Greek Authorities’ policy decisions regarding reception conditions. In particular, the policy to house SOGIESC and non-SOGIESC asylum seekers together (hereinafter ‘mixed housing’), in combination with camp containment policies.
Focus groups, conducted by Fenix Humanitarian Legal Aid, in collaboration with organisations throughout Greece, put the voice of the affected community at the forefront of these discussions and provided an insight into the impact these policy decisions had on the lives of asylum seekers. It was revealed that when forced to live in mixed housing, applicants felt unsafe and under constant threat of their orientation or identity being discovered. As the accommodation failed to provide any respite from discrimination and stigmatisation, applicants desired to be in a space where these stressors could be relieved and they could be their true selves. Furthermore, participants shared that the decision to hide their orientation or identity, compelled by the inappropriate reception conditions, had a profound impact on their mental health. One participant described the constant discretion as akin to their mind being in a prison, other participants shared that they wished to be truly free. These findings are consistent with studies on the psychological effect of compelled concealment. Although people hide their identity to protect themselves against victimisation, studies have shown that concealment or discretion nevertheless has a very negative impact on their mental health. It can cause depression, anxiety, and feeling of alienation, shame, and negative perceptions of oneself.
Despite the negative implications, the Greek Authorities are reluctant to provide appropriate housing, citing that in doing so, it would amount to discrimination against non-SOGIESC camp residents. The reasoning behind the Greek Authorities’ failure to provide adequate reception conditions is a misrepresentation of both equality and discrimination. Communities that face multiple forms of marginalisation, such as SOGIESC asylum seekers, are at an additional disadvantage, and therefore require specific measures to mitigate that disparity. Moreover, the Greek Authorities’ approach to apply a universal policy which disproportionately and negatively affects people with particular characteristics, is in itself a form of indirect discrimination.
An inevitable consequence of this lack of protection is that applicants’ safety is compromised. In some instances, the Authorities responded by moving SOGIESC asylum seekers out of mixed housing, and into a single SOGIESC specific accommodation within the camp. However, as the findings from the focus groups confirm, a dedicated area or SOGIESC-specific housing within the camps actually significantly increases the risk to SOGIESC asylum seekers due to the increased visibility, and causes even more isolation and stigmatisation. Despite these findings, which were made available to the Secretary General of Reception and the Secretary General ofMigration Policy, these dangerous practices occur.
Policy decisions which indirectly discriminate against SOGIESC asylum seekers perpetuate an anti-SOGIESC and non-inclusive rhetoric.Positive action, driven by the voices of those affected, is required to overcome homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.