Migrants fleeing persecution due to their sexual orientation and/or transgender identity can apply for refugee status in France. Find out more about the process.
Joseph* arrived in France in 2018 to apply for asylum. Back in his home country of Cameroon, he struggled to live as a gay man.
"Homosexuality in Cameroon is not acceptable," Joseph told InfoMigrants. He says he was threatened by people in his neighborhood, his family and friends.
After two years of legal appeal and waiting, he finally obtained asylum in 2020 with the assistance of BAAM, a French organization which helps migrants. Applying for asylum in France as an LGBTQ+ person is not easy.
"LGBT identity is the request that by definition you cannot prove," Aude Le Moullec-Rieu, president of the ARDHIS association that helps LGBT migrants in France, told InfoMigrants.
Migration agents need to have the "intimate conviction" that the individual identifies as an LGBTQ+ person.
"It rests on the power of convincing the agent, on the way the asylum seeker expresses themselves," Le Moullec-Rieu said.
How to strengthen your application
Some LGBTQ+ persons stigmatized in their home countries due to their sexual orientation concealed their identities – later complicating their asylum processes.
There are organizations across Europe that specialize in LGBTQ+ asylum and can assist individuals prepare for interviews. In France, individuals are allowed to have a lawyer or NGO member present at interviews.
The ARDHIS also organizes social activities and offers LGBTQ+ migrants to meet up with those who have already successfully secured asylum.
To make their applications stronger, LGBTQ+ migrants should give as many details as possible (e.g. names, places) – that is the advice Joseph says he would give to other LGBTQ+ asylum seekers.
"Explain well, be precise so they understand well," Joseph, who gained asylum in 2020, told InfoMigrants. "And be patient, procedures take a long time."
Agents are forbidden to request photos and videos of sexual practices. Since 2016, changing your gender in France does not require undergoing surgery.
The role of asylum agents
Since 2013 in France, OFPRA agents who take on asylum requests are specifically trained on issues faced by LGBTQ+ refugees. All OFPRA interpreters must adhere to neutrality and follow sensitivity training on LGBTQ+ issues.
According to Le Moullec-Rieu, if migrants experience issues with translation or interpretation, they can inform officers. Any problems must also be documented in case an appeal to the OFPRA decision is needed.
Last November, France deported Babacar, a gay asylum seeker from Guinea, where homosexuality is criminalized. His claim was rejected both at OFPRA and in the CNDA appeal. The ARDHIS have been helping him with his case, which is still ongoing. "The OFPRA and CNDA didn’t believe him," Le Moullec-Rieu said. "He didn’t convince them."
For Le Moullec-Rieu, this highlights other problems with the process of determining if someone is LGBTQ+.
“The institution decides if someone is LGBT and the rejection has dramatic consequences, detaining and deporting them to a country where homosexuality is criminalized,” she said. The OFPRA cannot comment on specific asylum cases for confidentiality reasons.
Securing asylum after fleeing persecution
But for those who make it and gain asylum, like Joseph, the experience after is liberating.
"Since I’m in France I changed a lot, I gained weight, and when people see my picture back in Cameroon they say ‘Oh who is that? Is it him? He changed a lot, he looks well!’" Joseph told InfoMigrants.
Joseph said he now feels free to express his sexuality, and he is happy to be in a country where he can get married to another man. He said he would like to get married, but in the meantime he is “better alone than in bad company!”
*Name changed to protect identity of individual
European NGOs that help LGBTQ+ migrants
NGOs in France that offer assistance:
- ACCEPTESS-T is also a helpful NGO to get in touch with for transgender persons