On 18th April 2018 the legal team at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP won one of the prestigious “Legal Business Awards”: CSR Programme of the Year. The corporate social responsibility award recognises their outstanding pro bono work that helped Micro Rainbow International to create the first safe housing for LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees in the UK. The Legal Business Awards are the leading awards initiative within the legal calendar.
More than 11 lawyers from Weil have dedicated over 250 hours of pro bono work to MRI’s project. Their services included banking, tax and property advice. MRI is grateful for the support received from Weil and is thrilled that the team has been recognised with this well-deserved award.
Homosexuality is criminalised in over 70 countries in the world, of which 5 have the death penalty. In many others, LGBTI people are persecuted by their families and communities with impunity. The extreme violence and persecution that LGBTI people face worldwide, means those who can, flee their countries and seek asylum. Each year over 1,000 LGBTI people claim asylum in the UK because of their sexuality, gender identity or intersex status.
When LGBTI people come to the UK and seek asylum, they are still not safe.
Why LGBTI asylum seekers need safe housing
LGBTI asylum seekers are often not safe when placed in housing environments with people whose religious and cultural backgrounds hold extreme homophobic and transphobic views. Non-cisgender LGBTI people frequently suffer from higher levels of violence and abuse.
The transition from being an asylum seeker to becoming a refugee is also frequently problematic. Once LGBTI asylum seekers are granted refugee status they are often lost and alone. At the same time, this is when they first begin to deal with the persecution they faced and the resulting pain and loss.
Research shows that LGBTI refugees lack safe housing. Often living in shared accommodation, they suffer abuse and violence from other refugees who can be hostile and homophobic. Research also shows that they face additional challenges to integration not faced by the general refugee population. For example they are shunned by their own families, ethnic and religious communities in the UK. As a result they are extremely isolated and more vulnerable to poverty and destitution having no one to turn to.
MRI’s response to homelessness of LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees
Against this background, MRI wants to ensure the safety of LGBTI refugees, their economic empowerment and their social integration. MRI’s solution is to:
- offer temporary housing for LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees exclusively;
- deliver social inclusion activities, such as peer support groups and life skills workshops;
- provide assistance to find employment and to set up small businesses.
This service provision is a combination of safe housing and socio-economic inclusion that fosters integration into British society. It is a holistic approach to integration that gives LGBTI refugees greater chances of fulfilling their potential in life.
In October 2017, MRI opened the first house in the UK offering temporary safe housing to LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers. It houses four residents: asylum seekers and refugees from Bangladesh, El Salvador, Malaysia and Jamaica. A second safe house opened in January 2018, which houses asylum seekers from Iraq, Kenya, Jamaica and Kosovo. MRI plans to provide safe housing to over 150 LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees by 2019.
Private and third sector partnerships
This award follows another prestigious award that Weil and MRI won in October 2017, the “Thomson Reuters Foundation Innovation Award”. TrustLaw created this award to recognise the most innovative initiatives. They are a programme that helps NGOs internationally to access high-quality legal support.
The partnership between Weil and MRI is an example of how the third sector can use pro bono work to generate projects that not only change people’s lives, but are also sustainable in the long term. MRI looks forward to developing this partnership further as the organisation replicates its model for social change throughout the UK. MRI is particularly grateful to Weil for championing LGBTI issues not only within their law firm but also within the wider legal profession.