People seeking asylum on the grounds of their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and/or sex characteristics (SOGIESC) are likely to have shared lived experiences as a direct result of societal stigma and discrimination.[i] Recognizing and understanding people’s experiences prior to seeking asylum is essential to service providers, to inform the types of services and ensure that they are appropriate, accommodating and inclusive. It is also necessary for caseworkers at the Greek Asylum Service and the European Union Agency for Asylum to ensure the standards of the EU Procedures Directive [2013/32/EU] are upheld:
“Certain applicants may be in need of special procedural guarantees due to their… sexual orientation, gender identity” (Recital 29).
“MemberStates shall ensure that the person who conducts the interview is competent to take account of the personal and general circumstances… including the applicant’s… sexual orientation, gender identity or vulnerability” (Article15(3)(a)).
For someone seeking asylum on the grounds of their SOGIESC, the reason for fleeing can often be viewed in two distinct forms or stages. First, there is the ongoing persecution that exists continually in the background. This is normally identified as the relevant and primary ground for asylum and the reason why the applicant cannot return to a particular country. For many SOGIESC asylum seekers, the background cause is the criminalization and persecution of people with diverse SOGIESC. Information relating to criminalization in an applicant’s country of origin is relatively easily-obtainable and well-researched via reports and guidelines, including country of origin reports, which identify the situation, relevant laws and the protections available. [ii]Since 2021, all of the SOGIESC clients at Fenix Humanitarian Legal Aid (hereafter ‘Fenix’) fled from a country where same-sex sexual activity or expressing gender identity outside the cisgendered norms is criminalized, either expressly or disguised under another widely-interpreted legal provision.All of the clients were forced to flee their country because of an actual or potential threat to their safety on account of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.
However, as people with diverse SOGIESC often endure discrimination and persecution for many years prior to fleeing by hiding or being discreet about their orientation or identity,[iii] most SOGIESC clients experienced a final significant event relating to the ongoing persecution which caused them to flee at that specific time(hereafter ‘triggering event’).
Significantly, for SOGIESC claims, there is a clear common and specific triggering event; since 2021, 70% of SOGIESC applicants represented by Fenix were forced to flee immediately and as a direct consequence of beingcaught during an intimate moment with someone of the same sex. For most of the applicants, this resulted in a severe assault by the community, whilst other clients then became fearful for their life or potential arrest. Despite its significance, there has been little discussion or acknowledgement of this.
The ‘outing’ and subsequent assault, which is often committed by the community or people known to the individual,[iv]can have significant implications for the applicant. In addition to a history of discretion and the likelihood of past traumatic events, the consequences of this triggering event as a further traumatic and isolating incident can result in significant physical and mental health implications. It has the potential to compound the shame that SOGIESC asylum seekers may already feel about their orientation or identity, further stigmatize and isolate, fortify the fear of being ‘outed’, lead to difficulties with trusting others, and prevent the person from feeling open or comfortable with their identity or orientation.
To receive the appropriate services and further support their asylum application, asylum seekers will often also have to articulate past trauma, vulnerabilities, physical and mental health conditions. Understanding the different experiences that SOGIESC asylum seekers have had to go through can assist in understanding potential mental health implications, inform reportsand medical documents, and affect the approach by legal, medical and mental health actors. In the context of the asylum procedure, as the triggering event and the subsequent impact can serve as a barrier to articulating one’s claim, acknowledging the lived experiences and trauma of people with diverse SOGIESC can ensure their personal circumstances are taken into consideration, thereby working towards fulfilling obligations under the EU Directive.
It is therefore recommended that:
- Service providers as well as caseworkers at the Greek Asylum Service and the European Union Agency forAsylum should take an intersectional trauma-informed approach. This approach ought to recognize the particularities that relate to the different grounds that applicants may seek asylum.
- Further research and documentation regarding triggering events should be obtained and subsequently recorded in reports, including country of origin reports. This information should also be incorporated within the relevant guidelines for Asylum Service caseworkers.
- Both service providers and caseworkers at the GreekAsylum Service and the European Union Agency for Asylum should endeavour to attend regular up-to-date inclusive training sessions on the particularities of SOGIESC asylum seekers.