Our Own Home: Fighting for Safety, Stability, and Choice as LGBTQI+ Refugees in Greece

LGBTQI+ Refugees
February 5, 2018

We are queer, we are here, but we are not safe here because we are homeless, and we need your help. We come from Syria, Iraq, Congo, Palestine, Cameron, Uganda, and Colombia. Despite our diverse cultures we all suffered at the hands of homophobia in our countries of origin, and we escaped these countries to Greece to be safe. But still we do not feel safe.

We are members of the collective LGBTQI+ Refugees Welcome in Greece. We are a grassroots initiative of solidarity whose goal is to afford space and give voice and support to one of the most repressed and “invisible” sides of the refugee “crisis”: that of the LGBTQI+ community.

As refugees we often do not get to make decisions ourselves. The governments and NGOs act as our puppet masters, pulling our strings to make decisions about where we live, who we live with, how long we will wait for papers, what day legal aid will come and if it comes, what time food will be available, what doctor we will see, or what translator we will have to work with. For the governments and NGOs we’re just objects and numbers. They move us around and speak in our names, like puppeteers with marionettes.

This lack of agency particularly affects us as LGBTQI+ refugees, as we often must live in spaces or visit doctors or lawyers that are incredibly queerphobic. Imagine having no choice but to take needed English lessons from a teacher who thinks you are a sick freak. No choice but to live next to someone who has physically threatened you. Dealing with homophobic interpreters is one of our main problems here, and we can’t say anything about it because we just want to be safe.

Our group framework works against this powerlessness. We work collectively to exercise our autonomy and agency. We are anti-authoritarian in that no one in our community should feel inferior or superior to others. It is of the utmost importance that everyone is perceived as an individual and not as a label (refugee, immigrant, trans, gay, abused, Greek, Syrian, etc.).

The LGBTQI+ Refugees pose during their “Rockumenta” art heist.

We meet once a week and all of our decisions are made by the consensus of our members. In practice this means long meetings where everyone voices their opinion in a circle. Politically, it means working to fight against outside hierarchies of racism, sexism, and homophobia and to meet each other face to face. No one person decides what events we will hold, how money will be allocated, or what projects we will work on. We are often not all delighted with every decision, but we know the vital importance of listening when we are often not listened to.

A lot of our work consists of filling dangerous gaps in the current system.

Both the Greek government and the various NGOs will provide refugees, such as some members of our collective, with money and housing. But it is not enough. The accommodations are beyond crowded and the money can’t last the month. It is especially not enough if you need help paying for medication like hormone replacement or HIV drugs. A significant number of the members of our collective take heavy prescriptions.

In the past year we have supported more than 50 LGBTQI+ refugees deal with needs like:

  • Help paying legal fees or fees for passports or other paperwork (a passport costs 85 euro to process)
  • Distribution of food and essentials once per week
  • Help with medication such as anxiety medication for members of our group who have post-traumatic stress
  • Space heaters for the cold winter nights
  • Help with paying for laser hair removal

We try to focus especially on the needs that are specific to our LGBTQI+ population. For this reason we have helped pay for laser hair removal. This is considered a cosmetic procedure and is not covered by other organizations, but if you are a trans woman with a heavy beard, hair removal can be a matter of safety, and even help buying razors can add security.

But always, the greatest need we have is for safe housing and accommodation.

Many times a week we get messages from refugees arriving off of islands or fleeing camps asking for any kind of shelter. Other refugee aid groups reach out to us regularly with “urgent cases” of LGBTQI+ folks who need housing that day. We have put strangers in our homes because we understand how terrifying it is to be LGBTQI+ and alone on the street.

Furthermore, one of the horrible ironies of this crisis is that even if an asylum seeker has found accommodation through an NGO, they are often kicked out once they attain refugee status with little time to find alternatives. At this time several of our members, legally recognized as refugees, have no housing and are relying on the kindness of friends and moving from floor to floor to find shelter.

Most of the already inadequate refugee accommodation facilities in Athens, such as camps and community squats, are particularly inappropriate for LGBTQI+ individuals due to high levels of discrimination, violence, and abuse. Accommodation facilities that attempt to serve LGBT needs as part of larger projects are packed beyond the point of overcrowding, with four people in rooms meant for one.

We need housing that does more than put a roof over our heads, but also provides safety and stability. We need housing initiatives that give us the agency to choose where we will live for the first time since we became refugees and were shuttled from camp to hotspot[1] and back. We need housing for LGBTQI+ refugees who are from Iran, Afghanistan, Congo, Cameroon, Morocco etc., and have faced danger our whole lives, and yet still do not have the expedited asylum procedures or NGO assistance afforded to people from Syria. We need housing that can be used in emergency situations — such as when we receive messages from LGBTQI+ refugees who have escaped the island they have been trapped on since the EU-Turkey Deal, only to arrive in Athens and have absolutely nowhere to go.

We currently have a Crowdfunder campaign to raise money for 2 two-bedroom apartments for a total of 8000 Euros over six months. With this money we can realize our own housing alternatives as a collective. Having our own housing would solve the problem of lack of safe housing for the members of our collective who cannot access mainstream refugee accommodation due to transphobic and/or homophobic abuse, who cannot rely on the support of a diaspora community due to issues regarding their gender identity and/or sexuality, and who have what little support that is available withdrawn once they obtain status. In recognizing the intersectional struggles that our members face in finding safe housing, this project provides support for a group which otherwise goes unsupported.

Without country, without fear, and without shame, we are LGBTQI+ Refugees.

[1] A “Hotspot” is a section of external borders characterized by “specific and disproportionate migratory pressure, consisting of mixed migratory flows…of asylum seekers and economic migrants, with the involvement of organised migrant smuggling networks.” See Maiani et al. (2016) “Hotspots and Relocation Schemes: the right therapy for the Common European Asylum System?” Accessed January 31, 2018.

LGBTQI+ Refugees

The “LGBTQI+ Refugees Welcome in Greece” group is a new, self-organized, grassroots initiative of solidarity, whose goal is to afford space and give voice and support to one of the most repressed and "invisible" sides of the refugee "crisis": that of the LGBTQI+ community. In less than one year the group has helped and supported more than 50 LGBTQI+ refugees to deal with needs and demands such as housing, food, heating, clothing, legal support and more. Additionally through our events, assemblies and meetings for coffee, movies, and more, we manage to create relationships and spaces that give the refugees the opportunity to socialize, open themselves up, and communicate through their equal participation.

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