When girlfriends Lisa and Goga fled Mexico and Kosovo respectively to finally meet in Belgium in early 2018, little did they know they were about to deal with homophobia.
Belgium is one of the most LGBTI-friendly countries in Europe. However, the attitude towards LGBTIs is quite different in asylum centers.
Lisa and Goga fear for their safety in the center of Kapellen, in the province of Antwerp.
‘These are the two worst months in our lives’, the ladies emphasized very emotionally in an interview with zizo.com.
The past few months have been very intense for them. They explained they ended up in an asylum center with a lot of single men who don’t really get along with a lesbian couple.
‘We can not go to the shower in our hallway anymore. That is too dangerous.’
Goga and Lisa met on Facebook
The couple, who met online in 2014, desperately wanted to be together in real life.
Particularly, Goga was escaping from a very risky situation. Her father had threatened to kill her upon discovering she is attracted to women.
She couldn’t apply for a visa to Mexico, as the country doesn’t recognize her homeland, Kosovo, as an independent state.
Therefore the two chose Belgium for their first real-life encounter. Once in the country on a tourist visa, they didn’t ask for asylum immediately.
‘The first nights we slept at a hotel. That cost us a lot of money, but after all those years, we wanted to be able to be together undisturbed,’ said Lisa.
When they couldn’t afford to stay there anymore, they both applied for asylum. They both were assigned a place in the asylum center of Kapellen.
Never in the closet
The two never lied about their status as a couple as they feared they would get separated otherwise. Nonetheless, they have been advised on multiple occasions to keep quiet about their sexuality and pretend to be sisters.
‘Belgium is a fantastic country for LGBT people. But the asylum center of Kapellen is not Belgium. I feel less safe than in Kosovo. We feel illegal here,’ said Goga.
‘From day one we already got threats. In one way or another, the news spread very quickly that a lesbian couple was staying in the center. Since then, we are being chased and people are spitting at our feet. Once they threw balls at us, which caused me to suffer scrapes. But it quickly became a lot worse.’
The couple says they feel unsafe. ‘Our first room was completely behind the asylum center, far away from the employees. If something went wrong, it took a very long time for an employee to come to us.’
They say it did not help that they were so far away from the employees. ‘In the evening only two staff members are present for the complete asylum center. If something goes wrong here, then all help will come too late.’
‘Lesbians were not welcome in their hallway’
‘We had been offered another room, but when we visited the new hallway the people living there blocked our entrance. Lesbians were not welcome in their hallway.’
They claimed they tried to file a complaint, but received threats from other occupants, resulting in the couple having to withdraw it for their safety.
Now they can not even go to the communal shower in their hallway.
‘I was taking a shower and one of the other women staying in the center began to shout and pound me hard on my door. I feared and screamed for my life,’ Lisa said.
She furthermore added: ‘I think it must have been the most horrible twenty minutes of my life.’
After the incident, the two women could shower in a closed shower on another floor. ‘But this should not be a solution.’
‘In the morning we leave the asylum center to hang around in Kapellen. At least we feel safe there. We try to return to the center as late as possible.’
‘We really understand that we do not get a five-star hotel, but this is just a terrible situation.’
There is no real policy concerning LGBTI refugees in Belgium
Their request for transfer has already been refused twice. Fedasil, the government organization that arranges the reception of asylum seekers, apparently has said that there is a lack of space.
They also said they are unable to comment on a single case.
Ever since Goga and Lisa told their story to the world, however, the situation is slowly improving. They have received the support of the city and moved to new rooms.
‘There is no real policy concerning LGBTI refugees by the Belgian government,’ political scientist Remy Bonny told Gay Star News. He met Lisa and Goga and visited the center.
‘They deal with LGBTI refugees the same way as other refugees while they should take into account that amongst the refugee population gross homophobia is common. Tackling homophobia is obviously not a priority by the current Belgian government’
‘Before 2018, the Belgian LGBT-organisation Cavaria dealt with LGBT-refugees. But from this year, the government took over that responsibility. Which is a good intention of course, but in practice, we see that all the experience in dealing with LGBT-refugees Cavaria had is not being used by the government now.’