'Where will you finally be really safe, if the people from whom you run, are running along with you?'. This is the heading of an advertisement of the organisations that stand for the rights of LGBT-refugees in the Netherlands. We talked with Gert-Jan Verboom, chairman of 'The Hang Out-010, who is the Rotterdam spokesman of this organisation.
In front of us lies the nicely designed magazine 'Refugees' produced by the youngsters of 'The Hang Out-010', after their encounters with 24 LGBT-refugees. The cover pictures nine laughing faces of - apparently - happy youngsters from other cultures. Leafing further and reading the poignant stories of their lives, one realizes that there is practically not much happiness at all.
How was the Magazine conceived?
Gert-Jan: "on the Rotterdam Pride of 2015 (in which the Hang Out played an active role) we got into contact with these youngsters, and we learned to know their poignant stories. The youngsters of the Hang Out were immediatly deeply moved and decided to start working on giving a helping hand to their peers from other cultures. The idea to gather their stories in a magazine was quickly born."
Illias from Russia (photography: Berksun Doganer).
That sounds splendid, but is this not rather an issue for (national level) politics?
Gert-Jan: "we are in contact with both national and local authorities. The governments' position is that separate shelter for LGBT-refugees is not their preference. However, the Minister of Social Affairs (Asscher) has drafted more rigid guidelines, saying that refugees need to recognise norms and values of the Netherlands. In addition to this the Minister of Education, Culture and Science (Bussemaker) queried the parliament about this issue. Before this, 'COA' (the implementing refugee asylum support organisation) has launched a campaign with posters in refugee centers, but that appeared not to be really effective. So we think further steps are required. Together with 'Secret Garden in Amsterdam and LGBT Asylum Support in Groningen we will work for LGBT-refugees in the Netherlands".
Safe House for LGBT-refugees
Gert-Jan: "We hear many stories about bullying, mobbing, and even violence against LGBT-people in asylum centers. People who fled from their homelands because of violence have to cope here with the same horrors. The COA and the attendants in the asylum centers are generally of good will, but lack the means to act properly. We also see that those responsible for vigilance are not focused on this type of situations. Our objective is - just like in Amsterdam - to get a Safe House for LGBT-refugees in Rotterdam as soon as possible. We of Hang Out010 are focusing particularly on LGBT youngsters, but exchanges with Amsterdam and Groningen is an option to widen the objective".
How can we picture such a house?
Gert-Jan: "LGBT-refugees are in urgent need of a safe spot where they can await the decision regarding their residence permit. A physical space where - after their traumatic experiences in their homelands - they find rest without daily confrontations with nasty and threatening situations with fellow refugees. We are thinking of a place that ever was a childrens' home or retirement home; a space that can relatively simply be adapted to an adequate living area. Refugees can stay there, and as soon as their permit situation is clear they can make space for other peers looking for refuge. This is really a short term option. Of course we hope that the government will find a structural approach to avoid abuses against LGBT-refugees".
Saphinah from Uganda (photography: Berksun Doganer).
An excellent initiative, but is that sufficient?
Gert-Jan: "No, next to the urgent shelter in the Safe House we need adequate additional support for the refugees. 'COC' (the national LGBT-organisation) started the Buddy-project 'Cocktail', to recruit volunteers who will provide coaching of these persons. The refugees need to find their way in the Netherlands varying from complicated procedures at the town hall to the daily shopping. Practice learns that refugees who were granted a residence permit are very willing to help other refugees, however, we need more people. The Hang Out-010 shall therefore link to these initiatives. COC Rotterdam will coordinate the project in Rotterdam. In addition to this LGBT student organisations have in the meanwhile been approached to assist. And, self explanatory, we are in dire need of physical means, like cloths, blankets etc.".
What can the Rotterdam community do to help you?
Gert-Jan: "A lot! By now it is quite clear that we do not need to count on governmental financial assistance. Therefore we started a crowdfunding action and we hope that with the collected funds we can (partly) cover the cost of a Safe House. Assistance and (financial) support from within the Rotterdam community is of course much welcomed. Next to this, one can sign a petition to induce Secretary of State Dijkhof (Safety and Law) to start opening Safe Houses through government initiative".
How is the situation of the refugees who are here now?
Gert-Jan: "The speed at which the youngsters who are here now adapt and feel at home is remarkable. It shows that they quickly find back their passions and talents. Lately I was in The Hang Out where two refugees from totally different continents found each other in their passion: dance and culture. Amazing".
Help to realise Safe House. In cooperation with de 'Stichting Bevordering Volkskracht' (foundation promoting the power of the people) the Hang Out-010 has opened a crowdfunding page. Contributions are welcomed. Donors will receive the magazine by mail. Please find the crowdfundingspage.
Sign the petition to induce Secretary of State (Dijkhof) to establish Safe Houses through government initiative. Please find the petition site.
Do you avail of clothes and/or blankets for donation to LGBT-refugees? Please send a mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Would you be willing to actively work as a buddy via the project 'Cocktail'? Send an email to email@example.com
The Hang-Out 010 youngsters designed the magazine 'Refugees'. The magazine contains stories of LGBT-stories from various countries. Would you like to get the magazine by email? Please donate through the crowdfund page, and let us know via firstname.lastname@example.org. The magazine is written in English.