My life, my choice
My name is Muhammad and I am from the Punjab side of Pakistan, close to Lahore.
Over there, everything is scary for an LGBTI person like me. If you ever go outside, your family is unsure whether you’ll come back. It was a very hard life because, back home, they don’t understand that my life is my choice.
I realised I was gay when I was 18 years old. My family caught me at home with someone and my brother beat me two or three times. My mom kept telling me it wouldn’t happen again, but the last time my brother caught me, he said he’d kill me, so I ran away to Karachi.
My initial plan was to go to Dubai, but people advised me not to. With help from my friend I arrived in London in 2005 on a six-month visa. I overstayed and eventually applied to the Home Office for the right to remain on a human rights basis.
Life in the UK
In 2008, three years after I’d arrived in the UK, some people from my country attacked me and tried to kill me. I went to a small takeaway with a friend, and suddenly two Pakistani men started to call me f***** gay. Before I knew what was happening, one of the men took an iron cooking pan and hit me in the head with it. People ran away, and my friend called the police and an ambulance. The police didn’t help me. I saw my attackers again and called the police once more, but they said they were too busy and didn’t come. After that, I moved out of the area.
Throughout the years, I was going to the Home Office every four weeks to sign in, as was required by my status. On 21 January 2016, I was cleaning my flat with the door open and a Home Office agent just stepped inside. They asked for my date of birth and name, and said they were detaining me. They took me to a detention centre in Wandsworth, where I sat in a chair all night, and was only given a bed in the morning. I stayed there for five weeks, at which point my cousin posted bail and took me into his home. I still do not understand why I was imprisoned, because I had been checking in with the Home Office as required.
I finally decided to apply for asylum when I was in detention and am still waiting for my asylum claim to be fully processed.
One thing that really struck me in detention is that asylum seekers are not allowed to work on the outside, but in detention they are paid three pounds for 6 hours of work cleaning a massive three-storey building. Why is that? I also recall having a severe nose bleed one night, and not being let out to wash up until morning, despite repeated pleas to the guard.
Three or four months after I was transferred to my cousin’s home, I went to sign in at the immigration reporting centre as usual. I was told I was to be taken in for a short interview but was then informed I was being detained once more. This time, I was taken to a detention centre in Oxford and kept there for four weeks, despite the fact that I was out on bail and had filed an asylum claim.
What Micro Rainbow means to me
Whenever I can, I go to a nightclub in Piccadilly Circus with free entry. Someone I met there told me about Micro Rainbow and encouraged me to participate in their social inclusion programmes.
The first time I visited Micro Rainbow in 2016, they paid for my transport, and offered me tea and coffee. I have been visiting Micro Rainbow every Monday ever since. Over the years, I have participated in activities including performing in the choir for LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees. I also regularly attend the peer support group called Weather the Storm and have participated in other activities such as dance and mindfulness workshops.
I have found Micro Rainbow’s holistic approach to social inclusion activities to be very beneficial. I used to suffer from headaches, but attending Micro Rainbow helps me feel relaxed and release tension. I come here to see people, and they are all so friendly and helpful. In addition to making me feel good, Micro Rainbow provides things like jackets and shoes, which is also very helpful.
My hope for the future is to help other LGBTI people, just like Micro Rainbow helped me.