Dr. Nina Held
„Danger of Decisionmakers Desensitizing“

Dr. Nina Held teaches at the University of Sussex. Her research interest in LGBT*-Asyl evolved from her work in various human rights organizations. It is part of the four-year research project SOGICA, which collects data on the social and legal experiences of refugees in Germany, Italy and Great Britain. It was also involved in the evaluation of questionnaires distributed by various NGOs in North Rhine-Westphalia to LGBT* refugees, which included questions about their experiences in the hearings of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). In an interview, she talks about the role of listeners*, interpreters* and the difficulty of proving one's sexuality.

What makes the hearings of LGBT* refugees so sensitive that they are worth a scientific investigation?
There are two answers. With regards to the refugees: If someone comes from a country where homosexuality is criminalized and you can't even talk about your sexuality, the question is whether you have the courage to say something in a hearing for which you would have been imprisoned in your country of origin. And then there's the perspective of the authorities: How do the listeners or the interpreters deal with what has been said?

To what extent does the gender of the listeners play a role?
Most refugees do not know that they can apply for both male and female listeners and interpreters. If there is prior consultation through NGOs, this is better known. Especially women who have experienced violence from men are often very intimidated. Individuals said they couldn't talk about their sexuality at all. It is therefore very important to make it clear to the refugees before the hearings that they can choose the gender of the audience.

What role do the translators play?
Most of the refugees we have spoken with have had negative experiences with interpreters. One problem is the quality of the translation. If errors are made in the translation, this can have fatal consequences for the decision of the BAMF. The other issue is how the interpreters deal with sexuality. They are sometimes hostile and play a more active role than they should: They interfere and influence the refugees to say what they should and should not say. Or they only translate the parts they want to translate, because they find the rest objectionable.

Do the special representatives of the authorities, i.e. specially trained listeners for dealing with LGBT refugees, help with regard to the recognition rate?
The study in North Rhine-Westphalia showed that all seven refugees who had a special representative at the hearing received a form of recognition. However, it cannot be assumed that everything will go better just because a special envoy conducts the hearing. However, in terms of sensitivity and the nature of the question, positive effects are noticeable - simply because these special representatives are better trained. Nevertheless, if someone hears the stories of LGBT refugees very day, they too are in danger of becoming desensitized.

What should happen to ensure that all those who are eligible for asylum are recognized?
Actually, the culture should change. When the media talk about a "refugee crisis" all the time, it naturally also has an influence on the decision-makers. Then the mistaken belief that these people come to Germany for economic reasons persists in people's minds.

Is it even possible to prove sexual orientation?
In England there is a lawyer who has developed a model, the DSSH model. D stands for "difference", S for "stigma", S for "shame" and H for "harm". His model assumes that it will be possible to look for signs of these four fields in the hearings. But this is also viewed critically - after all, everyone lives out their sexuality differently and has their own story. The BAMF often argues that the stories are not detailed enough. The fact that the people who tell their stories have different personalities is often ignored. Our recommendation is to accept sexual and gender self-identification and to consider the interaction of various social factors. How someone grew up, what education they enjoyed, what they experienced. The whole package counts.

Text & interview: Dominik Wolf
Illustration: Franziska Romana