Russian LGBTQ+ asylum seeker dies outside Dutch refugee camp

Photo by ev on Unsplash. Used under an Unsplash License.

On November 29, 2023, LGBT World Beside, a European organization supporting LGBTQ+ asylum seekers and refugees from post-Soviet countries, published devastating news on their Instagram:

With deep regret, we announce the loss of another member of our community, Mikhail, a seeker of asylum from Russia. This is the third loss this year, and we express sincere condolences to Mikhail’s family and friends. Deaths in refugee camps, especially among the LGBTQIA+ community, are becoming a troubling trend. This is no longer just an incident but a cry for help. The government and COA [Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers] need to reconsider the policy of placing refugees from vulnerable groups.

Mikhail was 24 years old. He arrived in the Netherlands and requested asylum about 12–14 months ago. According to LGBT World Beside, he was sent to an asylum seekers center in the city Echt. In the post, LGBT World Beside asks those in need to “not hesitate to seek help from family, friends, and acquaintances.” “You are not alone!” reassure activists.

An X (formerly Twitter) user wrote:

Half a year ago, in a refugee camp in [The Netherlands] Hina Zakharova from Russia committed suicide, and now there is news about another Russian guy. People sit there for years, I myself spent 14 months WITHOUT an interview (WITH MY CASE!), [they] took [my] international passport, national passport, military identity cart, which they still cannot manage to return.

Read more: Transgender girl from Russia commits suicide in a refugee camp

Citing Mikhail’s assistant attorney, a spokesperson for LGBT World Beside told Global Voices that the Immigration and Naturalization Service had suspended Mikhail's process because of a “suicide outside the camp.”

A non-profit organization in the Netherlands, LGBT World Beside focuses on providing legal and psychological support to LGBTQ+ refugees and their families as well as LGBTQ+ people who still live in their countries of origin.  It was founded in 2018. The NGO holds social events and works to disseminate information in the Netherlands and countries of refugees’ origin. It tries to create a safe space for members of the LGBTQ+ community, make their integration into new society easier, and support them in their work on their traumatic experience and their fight against discrimination. Global Voices interviewed the NGO's representative via Telegram.

Global Voices (GV): Do you know how many LGBTQ+ refugees from Russia are now in Dutch camps?

LGBT World Beside (LWB): We do not know the exact number of LGBT asylum seekers from Russia at the moment, but we do know that, as of 2022, it could be more than 500. In most cases applicants are granted an interview at the end of 12 months. But we are also aware of cases where LGBT asylum seekers are not given a second interview, even after the official 15 months end. We hold regular meetings to make the socialization of arriving asylum seekers as comfortable as possible. Our meetings are attended by more than 80–100 people. But we understand that we are not omnipotent, and just meetings will not help to solve the issue with long waiting time.

GV: If a refugee has any kind of issue, like conflicts in the camp, or they are just heavily stressed, to whom they can go to seek help?

LWB: If an LGBT asylum seeker has a situation in which they need help, they can definitely contact the case manager at the the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA) right away, or a COA employee on duty, if something happens outside of working hours. Then, the asylum seeker can also file an official complaint with the temporary accommodation camp and camp authorities are obliged to process it. Of course,  there still might be problems with emergency assistance, but if someone is really in danger, they will get help. COA staff is helpful, caring and deals with conflicts, especially within the camp. COA staff has many meetings inside the camps to make the asylum seeker’s stay as comfortable as possible. If an asylum seeker could not solve an issue, they could call us, we would contact COA and the staff would help. For example, when an asylum seeker in one of the camps far away from major medical centers felt unwell at night, a medical helicopter arrived. As far as we understand, COA and GZA (a healthcare provider for asylum seekers) staff do not refuse medical care and do help with problems. But asylum seekers may indeed wait several months for a doctor's appointment.

GV: How can refugees get psychological assistance? 

LWB: If an asylum seeker needs psychological support, they officially submit a request to the GZA inside the camp. We know that officially waiting for an appointment with a psychologist can take more than a month, sometimes two. And this is the first thing we would like to influence now. On our social media, we regularly post information on services of emergency and targeted psychological help, these are psychologists who are volunteers. But LGBT people need the support of specialists, they need safety on a regular basis. The fact that asylum seekers are on the territory of the Netherlands does not mean that they immediately feel safe, especially in light of the nonstop openly homophobic news from Russia. If waiting time for interviews has increased, we believe the support system in camps must change too as these are temporary refugee accommodation camps. Temporary, not permanent. Imagine how a person feels without certainty of being able to stay, when they have been waiting for an interview for 15 months.

GV: After the Russian Supreme Court ruled that “international LGBTQ+ movement” is an “extremist organization,” do you expect a wave of mass emigration from Russia?

We are already preparing to help on the spot. Every day it's getting harder to cross the borders. It will be hard to leave Russia, and visas are not so easy to get now.

Read more: Police immediately raids LGBTQ+ clubs in Moscow after Russia bans ‘International LGBTQ+ movement’

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