COC Netherlands sounded the alarm on the situation of LGBT asylum seekers in emergency shelter in the Netherlands on October 22, 2015. Even though COC Netherlands is of the opinion that the government is still not doing enough to improve the situation, there are now plans for separate and safe emergency shelters for LGBTs on four locations in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. In addition to this, around 100 ‘buddies’ for LGBT asylum seekers registered with the COC. Below, and overview of recent developments.
In the current news TV program Nieuwsuur of October 22nd, President Tanja Ineke of the COC reported that the gay organisation received a lot of complaints by LGBT asylum seekers in a relatively short time on safety issues in emergency shelters. They were abused, bullied or threatened because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Asylum seeker Omar from Syria tells about his experiences in emergency shelters in the TV programme.
The COC has requested State Secretary Klaas Dijkhoff (Asylum) and Minster Jet Bussemaker (Emancipation) to take extra measures for safe emergency sheltering. Offenders should be dealt with more strictly, it should be communicated that discrimination in shelters is not tolerated, and Trust Councillors should be established in every shelter location, so that LGBTs and other vulnerable groups will be empowered to report issues.
Separate Safe Shelters
The COC also argued for separate and safe shelter locations for LGBT asylum seekers who prefer this kind of shelter. It was the solution LGBT asylum seekers mentioned themselves most fitting. The plea is supported by LGBT Asylum Support, Secret Garden, and The Hang Out 010, which started an internet petition in order to achieve this. The Dutch political parties SP, GroenLinks and PvdA have organised a hearing on the matter.
State Secretary Dijkhoff will take no further action, was his response to questions in the Dutch Lower House by the PvdA on November 16. The COC now again requests the Lower House to take action. On November 26, the State Secretary assures PvdA Member of Parliament Ahmed Marcouch that there will be a poster campaign against discrimination at emergency shelters, but no further action is taken.
On December 4th, the city of Amsterdam communicates that they will offer separate shelter to LGBT refugees who would appreciate this. At this point in time, two of such locations have been made available, with a third on its way.
On December 7, Minister Bussemaker of Emancipation writes a letter to the 42 so-called ‘rain bow municipalities,’ in which she expresses her concern about the situation of LGBT asylum seekers. She urges other municipalities to follow Amsterdam's example. On December 8, Minister Ard van der Steur (Safety & Justice) lets know on behalf of the government that addressing the perpetrators will remain the starting point of the government's policy, but that in emergency situations, separate shelter can indeed be offered to LGBT asylum seekers.
On December 15, the city of Rotterdam announced that it will respond to Minster Bussemaker's appeal. Relief organisation Humanitas will shelter 10 LGBTs that were threatened in an asylum shelter in Alphen aan den Rijn. Among others, this was done at the insistence of Rotterdam PvdA council member Fatima Talbi.
The COC will continue to urge the government, the Lower House and municipality to take additional measures for safe and separate shelter for LGBTs at various locations.
Hundreds of buddies!
In the meantime, the COC called on citizens to become the ‘buddy’ of an LGBT asylum seeker. Buddies undertake social activities with asylum seekers. The past weeks, the wonderful number of 300 people registered at COC to become a buddy. The number is so high, that new registrations will not be necessary for a while.
This is how an LGBT asylum seeker in the Netherlands would look without the protection of a safe house.
One asylum seeker from a group of 10 asylum seekers on hunger strike in the AZC Alphen aan de Rijn tried to commit suicide out of pure desperation. This young gay asylum seeker from Syria was then housed at a host family in Amsterdam by LGBT Asylum Support. This attempted suicide is the direct result of the hopeless situation, rising tensions and structural discrimination at refugee centres they find themselves in, but also of insufficient protection of this vulnerable group. Problems that have been arising in refugee centres for a longer period of time, for which solutions are not implemented.
LGBT Asylum Support sounded the alarm bell, because this was the second time in a month that an LGBT asylum seeker tried to take his own life in a refugee centre. A situation that is no longer controlled and gives a very clear signal that this group needs more attention by means of separate shelter for LGBT asylum seekers outside of existing forms of shelter.
Situation in Alphen aan de Rijn
From Friday the 11th to the night of Sunday, December 14th, a group of LGBT asylum seekers in the former detention centre that now functions as emergency shelter, went into hunger strike because of continuing discrimination, threats and even assaults. Their only demand was a safe place as LGBT asylum seeker, a safe house.
During a consultation that followed with the management of the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA) and the refugee shelter in Alphen aan de Rijn (AZC Alphen aan de Rijn), in which Stichting Humanitas Rotterdam would possible take over their shelter arrangements, it became clear that the COA would be unable to use their budget for this. That is also in line with the State Secretary's policy not to allow the financing of emergency shelter for LGBT asylum seekers outside of refugee centres.
Double Suicide Attempt
LGBT Asylum Support arranged for an LGBT asylum seeker to be moved instantly from the refugee centre AZC Hoogeveen, also a former prison, to a host family in the area after a double suicide attempt.
This asylum seeker did not only suffer structural discrimination by fellow asylum seekers, but was also unable to report the incidents to the local police, he told us. In spite of various reports by him to COA staff, the perpetrators are still housed in this refugee centre.
LGBT Asylum Support thinks that enough is enough after two suicide attempts and a double suicide attempt. The signals are abundantly clear and indicate that LGBT asylum seekers need more than what the COA can offer within the possibilities allowed by State Secretary Klaas Dijkhoff.
Safe Houses for LHBT Asylum Seekers
LGBT Asylum Support, COC Netherlands, collaborating LGBT organisations, and a number of political parties, including SP and GroenLinks, have advocated the importance of shelter for LGBT asylum seekers in safe houses as a solution. With these suicide attempts, a hunger strike, and reports from various different refugee centres, these are patently obvious signals that the current policy is not suited for LGBT asylum seekers, and that a different solution needs to be found.
At the moment, they are putting things on their head: the offenders guilty of discrimination are hardly or not dealt with. Reporting these incidents does not have the right effect, and is even discouraged by staff of the COA. LHBT asylum seekers therefore leave emergency shelter more damaged than before they chose the Netherlands as a safe and tolerant refuge, a country that should be able to guarantee their safety. LGBT Asylum Support finds this unacceptable.
As long as separate emergency measures are not possible for LGBT asylum seekers, and the State Secretary does not get any signals that would open his eyes for the consequences of his policy regarding the vulnerable position of LGBT asylum seekers in refugee centres, LGBT Asylum Support comes with the following demands:
Respecting all forms of LGBT groups in all forms of shelter, and actively making sure that these groups remain intact during the entire procedure, so that they can feel safe.
Respecting all forms of LGBT relationships, so that they will not be separated (as is the case now) from each other without having a safe place for intimacy and mutual security.
Respecting extra care in emergency shelter for transgenders: extra medical care and clothing, respecting all forms of reports from LGBT asylum seekers directed towards COA staff in all forms of shelter to insure that:
1) the police when possible will be notified and called in by COA staff, and not by asylum seekers themselves or by outside organisations,
2) perpetrator(s) will be arrested and action is taken on this.