Queer refugee protest, Amsterdam – Collage of the pictures of the four interviewees.
All photos: Gwen van der Zwan

Queer Refugees Are Struggling to Live in One of Europe's LGBTQ Havens

“I have no papers and no home, but going back is not an option," one asylum-seeker in the Netherlands tells VICE.

This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.

At the beginning of September, I joined a protest in Amsterdam against the refugee housing emergency happening in the Netherlands. At the centre of the crisis is the situation at the Ter Apel refugee centre, the largest in the country, where all people arriving in the Netherlands must register with the authorities.

In the summer, hundreds of people were forced to sleep outside on multiple occasions due to bureaucratic delays and overcrowding. The situation came to a head in August, when over 700 asylum-seekers had to camp outside the facility for over three weeks. The sanitation at the centre was condemned by a representative of the Dutch Red Cross, who said that people developed rashes, blisters and other conditions because of their exposure to the elements and the lack of access to showers.


In August, a three-month-old died at the centre, but an investigation determined no criminal offence had taken place. The situation left many applicants in great mental distress, with some reporting suicidal thoughts.

Sunday’s event featured several speakers, including people from LGBTQ Asylum Support, an organisation specialised in helping queer people navigate the asylum system in the Netherlands. The position of this group is particularly precarious because their right to stay in the country hinges on whether or not Dutch immigration will believe they are actually queer, something quite hard to prove.

At the event, I met some queer refugees in the process of applying for asylum, including people whose status was denied. I asked them about their story and what the protest meant to them. They asked to remain anonymous to protect their safety.

‘The immigration police has already tried to put me on a flight back to Nigeria. It makes me so incredibly afraid’

Efe, queer refugee – man with colourful braids wearing a green jacket, a white shirt and a chain necklace, standing in front of a crowd carrying banners and a huge pride flag.

Efe, 23, from Nigeria

“I used to be a truck driver in Nigeria before I fled. When my family found out I was gay, it was a big deal. In Nigeria, being gay can land you in prison – with a death sentence, in some cases. Luckily my aunt helped me get out.

I arrived in Italy by boat, and waited three years there for a residency permit. They didn’t believe my story. So I came to the Netherlands in hopes of things being different here. I’ve been here since January, but they keep telling me, ‘Because of the Dublin system, we’re not responsible for you.’ [Editor’s note: The Dublin agreement states asylum-seekers are supposed to be processed in the first European country they set foot in; if they move and try to apply for status somewhere else, the second country can refuse them.]


I hoped to get help by sleeping outside at the gates of the Ter Apel centre for two weeks. But no luck. I’m currently staying in Groningen.

My dream is to go back to working as a truck driver, but in a safe environment. All I want is a simple life. I’d like to live in Utrecht one day. I think it’s such a beautiful city.

At the moment I’m an undocumented refugee. The immigration police has already tried to pick me up at the asylum shelter once and put me on a flight back to Nigeria. It makes me so incredibly afraid.” – Efe, 23, from Nigeria

‘I don’t have any dreams. My future is too uncertain’

Tani, queer refugee – man with short, kinky hair, wearing a white t-shirt and a backpack, standing in a field with different groups talking in the background

Tani, 27, from Uganda

“I was an electrical engineer back in Uganda. I left because I’m queer. My family didn’t support me and it was truly dangerous to be there. In Uganda, you can be locked up for life for being gay. Many human rights are violated in prison.

I came to the Netherlands because it’s known as an LGBTQ+ friendly country. I’ve been here since 2019 and my request has been denied, so I’m undocumented right now. I have no papers and no home, but going back is not an option for me. I’m trying to improve my situation by going to protests and taking action with LGBTQ Asylum Support. I don’t have any dreams. My future is too uncertain.” - Tani, 27, from Uganda


‘It’s very disappointing to me that the immigration authorities don’t believe many LGBTQ+ people’

Sam – picture taken from behind of a man with short dark hair wrapped in a progressive pride flag and holding a protest sign.

Sam [not his real name], 33, from Palestine via Jordan

“I fled to Jordan years ago, because life as a bisexual man had become impossible for me in Palestine. I started studying international law and became an LGBTQ+ activist. It was important work, but it also got me in trouble. I’ve been beaten up and called names many times. Ultimately, the country’s strict Islamic government turned against me, too. At some point I thought, ‘If I don’t get out now, I’ll die here.’

I’ve been here for a month now and slept outside at Ter Apel for two weeks. For a while, I stayed in a tent I built myself, but sometimes I would just lie on the ground without cover. Six hundred of us were recently moved to a temporary camp. It’s nice, but it’s not a long-term solution.

I haven’t spoken to the immigration authorities yet, but I’m optimistic that they’ll believe my story. Due to my activism in Jordan, I have proof that I’m bisexual and of the danger that I was in. I have medical reports detailing the assaults and proof that my life was in danger, including death threats and hate messages.

It’s very disappointing to me that the immigration authorities don’t believe many LGBTQ+ people. The situation in Ter Apel made me lose hope. My only dream is to feel safe, to live in a place where I have the same rights as everyone where I won’t be assaulted because of my sexual orientation.” - Sam [not his real name], 33, from Palestine via Jordan


‘I’ve lost plenty of friends after they were imprisoned. You never hear from them again’

Bright - man with buzzed hair and a full beard wearing a progressive rainbow flag draped around his shoulders and carrying a banner in the march

Bright, 27, from Nigeria

“I feel very connected to the queer refugee group. We’re all friends, which makes me feel less lonely. I left my home country because I knew people’s human rights are violated once it turns out they’re not straight, and because I was afraid that people would find out that I’m not.

I’ve been here for six months, four of which were at Ter Apel, and it wasn’t easy. Going back is not an option, I’ll be thrown in jail immediately and it won’t end well for me. I’ve lost plenty of friends after they were imprisoned, you never hear from them again. I have no idea if they’re still alive or not. In the future, I’d love to finish my degree in English and join a church.” - Bright, 27, from Nigeria

‘I left without telling anyone’

Abdulwahab – man with a full beard and short, bleached, kinky hair, wearing a white shirt with blue butterflies and a black cap in reverse.

Abdulwahab, 23, from Nigeria

“I slept outside at Ter Apel for a while, but I was recently moved to a migrant shelter in Groningen. Back in Nigeria, I tried to hide my sexuality, but people around me started to be suspicious. So I left without telling anyone in late 2016, while I was still studying to become a mechanical engineer.

What I’m seeing here, at this protest, would be unheard of where I’m from. In Nigeria, you can’t be proud of your sexual identity if it deviates from the norm. And you definitely can’t protest openly for your rights. The fact that this is possible here gives me so much energy. That’s why I want to stay. But whether or not I’ll be able to, is another story.” - Abdulwahab, 23, from Nigeria


Scroll down to see more pictures.

Efe Endurance, queer refugee – man wrapped in a huge rainbow flag speaking on stage as others cheer him on
Netherlands refugee crisis, Ter Appel, protest – protester holding sign written in red felt tip on a white piece of cardboard

A sign at the protest reading, "A baby died in a gym", referring to the three-month-old who passed away in Ter Appel.

Netherlands refugee crisis, Ter Appel, protest – two young women holding signs in front of a scattered crowd on a meadow

Two signs at the protest reading, "No person is illegal #wemakespace" and "Refugees = you and me in different circumstances"