Malta has been ranked first in the world for LGBTQ+ rights for the fifth year in a row, with a near perfect score of 89%. And while this sounds impressive on paper, there is one category in which Malta doesn’t pass the half mark: asylum rights.
LGBTQ+ lobby group ILGA releases a yearly index of all countries on how they score for rights and policies for the community, the criteria ranging equality; family rights; legal gender recognition; freedom of expression and asylum rights. While Malta has clearly progressed since the introduction of civil unions in 2013, the poor scoring (33%) for LGBTQ+ individuals seeking asylum means there is still space to improve.
Why is there such a large discrepancy in this category compared to the other four?
Lovin Malta spoke to human rights NGO aditus head Neil Falzon on the barriers faced by LGBTQ+ asylum seekers that contribute to Malta’s poor score.
Interviewing LGBTQ+ applicants who go through the asylum procedure in Malta, Falzon said their main comment was that applying for asylum was a daunting experience.
“As with all other communities, the refugee community is also a diverse one with people who identify as LGBTIQ+. Whilst, of course, not all LGBTIQ+ persons are vulnerable, the LGBTIQ+ experience in migration can be an extremely challenging one,” he said.
A lack of information and cultures of shame in their home countries means they find it difficult to receive the help they need.
“With little information provided to them about the asylum procedure, it is not obvious to them that their LGBTIQ+ identity is at all relevant. With people who lived in countries that criminalise same-sex relationships, it is difficult to expect them to easily and openly reveal their identity to a Government case-worker… so much trust needs to be built.”
Falzon also spoke about hurdles faced during the asylum process, including prevailing stereotypes, lack of specialised training for government workers and difficulty in trusting officials.
“We’ve had a number of cases where the case-worker interviewing our clients not only lacked specialised training but also had negative attitudes or incorrect stereotypes about what it means to be LGBTIQ+, with questions like “what were you before you became gay?”
“None of these applicants, who could have been extremely vulnerable, were prioritised or offered support in the course of the procedure. Many suffered months of agony and anxiety because the authorities simply didn’t believe they were gay or because they were told they can return home and live in a different town.”
Even after the asylum procedure, LGBTQ+ refugees face possible exclusion from their own communities, and may find it difficult to find support in detention centres and settle down afterwards.
“The lack of security in the detention centres emerged as a key point by all,” he said. “[LGBTQ+ asylum seekers] spoke of their fear of bullying, harassment, and violence. They underlined that there was nobody they could turn to for protection during the long months they spent locked up.”
Outside the asylum procedure, leading a comfortable life as a gay asylum seeker or refugee in Malta is often very difficult. For many migrant communities, LGBTIQ+ issues are still taboo and can lead to exclusion. It is difficult for migrants who are so dependant on their communities for information, employment and social life to come out and live their lives.
“Coupled with the racism many of them face when they attempt to engage with the local LGBTIQ+ community, they often have nowhere to turn to. Many of our clients remain in the closet, petrified of coming out and suffering from anxiety and depression.”
However, Falzon did note some positive changes made by the new Refugee Commissioner, and looks to raise these issues to the Office to build better procedures to identity and support vulnerable applicants.
“These are often very challenging cases to work with, and present human stories of violence, shame, and exclusion. We hope we can work with the authorities and other organisations to alleviate their suffering, and seek solutions.”