Micro Rainbow International decided to commemorate Refugee Week by giving a voice to some of the thoughts that LGBTI refugees often have but do not always have the courage to express for fear of being seen as ungrateful towards the country that gave them safety or of being judged. This is what a Jamaican, a lesbian, and a refugee has told us:
“Contrary to public opinion, I’m not better off here. I’m not wanted here – I don’t want to be here either. Life here is quite unpleasant. I think adjusting once you’re a refugee is harder for people who had a successful life. Sometimes you’d prefer to starve than do some jobs – things you’d never have considered before. If you’d never had to do your washing yourself for example and now you’re living in a box no bigger than your bathroom back home. It brings tears to my eyes thinking about the life I had. If I try I cannot picture my mother visiting me here, she wouldn’t be able to understand why I’m living in what we’d call a matchbox. I try to make it nice but everything I have I came here with.
I was a professional back in Jamaica. I have a degree and worked in IT management. During the time it took for me to get refugee status, because of rapid changes in my profession, my qualifications became useless. I miss being a professional. Now I want to do something more people based. I’m studying, doing another degree so I can do something more satisfying – maybe I’ll write novels and debate big ideas.
If I wasn’t a lesbian, I wouldn’t be in England and I’d be well off. No matter how well I do here, I’d always have been better off in Jamaica. It’s because I’m a refugee that I’m not well off and I’m a refugee because I’m a lesbian. Being well off is not just about money. I was part of a community. I come here, live in a box and don’t have a community. Like the man downstairs thanked me one day and I said “what for?” and he said “being friendly”. What kind of community is it where you thank someone living in the same building because simple human greetings are unexpected?
Making clothes is something I really really enjoy and I could do to improve my life style. But I don’t think it’s possible. I don’t know much about what happens here. I think I could get into trouble with tax and rules and things. However, people often admire the style I wear. My market would start with lesbians. Also, shops only sell smaller sizes in those clinging, semi-naked styles and there’s a big demand for bigger sizes with young Jamaican women. I might give this dream a go”.
Eileen (not her real name) was granted refugee status in 2010, after being detained and waiting years. She is currently studying and volunteering with the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG) offering support to other LGBTI individuals claiming asylum in the UK.
Eileen spoke to Erin Power during Refugee Week 2013