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Queer Muslim Asylum Spaces: Between Righfulness and Rightlessness within Germany's Hetero- and Homonormative Asylum System

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Queer Muslim Spaces (Queer Muslim Asylum Spaces: Between Righfulness and Rightlessness within Germany's Hetero- and Homonormative Asylum System)

Reporting period: 2018-09-01 to 2020-08-31

The research project took an intersectional perspective, which includes Islam, to the study of queer asylum in Europe and pursued three objectives:

First, to analyze hetero/homonormativity in Germany’s asylum law and examine the possibilities for queering this law. The data reveals how sexual regimes in the asylum context always function in relation to hierarchies of gender, class, race, and cultural geopolitics. The researcher argues that these intersections need to be addressed so as to establish a more just and inclusive European asylum system.

Second, to gain new empirical insights into the experiences of LGBTQI asylum seekers with Muslim background. Based on the collected data, the researcher shows that there is a tendency to extend refugee protection to those Muslim asylum seekers who most successfully re-create the mythological fiction of Western “queer liberalisms” as inhabited through ideas around individuality, sexual freedom, and visibility. In this manner, the “good” gay Muslim asylum seeker are those who confirm Western sexual lifestyle while at the same time confirming that Muslim men/communities are backward and particularly homophobic – constituting a threat to Europe’s safety and political stability

Third, to develop a set of grassroots strategies that will help European Commission, state and non-state actors to develop policies and politics based on a better understanding of the wide range of experiences of LGBTQI asylum seekers. To this end, the researcher has published three policy briefs in collaboration with NGOs and queer asylum activists which address the following topics: 1) Visibility and legal support for LGBTQI Asylum Seekers; 2) The Effects of Covid-19 on LGBTQI asylum seekers; and 3) The Recognition of Black Lesbian Asylum Claims.
Two phases of fieldwork of two months each were carried out in Cologne, Heidelberg, Munich, Berlin, Dresden, and Frankfurt to gather ethnographic data on the challenges LGBTQI Muslims face within Germany’s asylum system. Apart from this, legal documents, policy reports, and media reporting have been gathered throughout the fellowship in addition to the ethnographic data. During the 2 years of fellowship, the insights gathered were presented at 2 workshops, 1 brown bag, 11 academic and professional conferences, 1 public panel discussion, 1 research lab, and 1 podcast. Moreover, the data is published in 2 peer-reviewed and 3 non-peer reviewed journals, 5 Newspaper articles, 3 blog posts and 3 policy briefs. A special issue on the topic has been accepted for publication by Ethnic and Racial Studies. Moreover, the study was mentioned in 18 news outlets. Based on the networks established in the context of this research project, the researcher co-founded the Queer European Asylum Network, an umbrella organization that brings together NGO practitioners, LGBTQI+ refugees and activists and academics.

Through these activities, this project produced two results, which opened up more questions which deserve more scientific attention in future research on queer asylum.

First, this project generated important scientific data on the relationship between immigration policy, Islamophobia and sexuality. Based on the analysis of the data, the study shows that the most successful applicants were very well informed about what is expected from them at the asylum interview. Particularly Muslim men were expected to confirm with Western lifestyle of homosexuality while at the same time confirming islamophobic attitudes toward their Muslim communities as intrinsically homophobic. While Germany and Europe are traditionally seen as a safe havens for LGBTQI+ refugees compared to many majority Muslim countries - where homosexuality is illegal - there is a concern that the narratives and stereotypes perpetuated by the German asylum system may serve right-wing discourses on immigration in Germany, where Muslims are often portrayed as a threat to national safety.

Secondly, the study found that in Germany, about 95 percent of lesbian asylum cases, lodged by Muslim and Christian affiliated womxn, get rejected after the first interview. This is in contrast to the general rejection rate of LGBTQI+ individuals seeking asylum of 50 percent and that of heterosexual women of 30 percent. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) does not collect data specifically on LGBTQI+ asylum claims. However, estimates gathered by the lesbian organization LeTRa in Munich, with which the researcher collaborated on a Policy Brief, suggest that lesbian asylum seekers face specific challenges when seeking refugee protection in Germany. This particularly applies to the most vulnerable cohort within Germany’s asylum system – lesbian womxn racialized as Black. Besides legal challenges, Black lesbian womxn are more likely to experience sexual violence in reception and refugee camps and suffer forms extreme social isolation due to homophobia, misogyny, and racism. The experiences of lesbians from all religious backgrounds, is not discussed in queer migration scholarship in Europe. The researcher's peer-reviewed article “Victimhood and Femininity in Black Lesbian Asylum Cases in Germany”, published in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, is the first of its kind.
The Queer Muslim Asylum project involves collaboration with various key actors in the field of LGBTQI+ asylum in Germany, including an official partnership with the UNESCO Coalition of Cities Against Racism, the Anti-Discrimination Office at the city of Heidelberg and various local queer asylum organisations. At the EU-level, the PI organized an online symposium on covid-19 and queer asylum in collaboration with the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Unit at the Council of Europe. The virtual symposium featured NGO representatives and lawyers working on queer asylum, LGBTQI+ activists and LGBTQI+ persons seeking asylum/refugees from Germany. Over 5,600 people have attended the symposium either via the webinar or Facebook live. Based on the symposium, an advocacy video and a policy brief have been published.

On the national level in Germany, the researcher has engaged with a variety of different stakeholders ranging from LGBTQI+ persons with Muslim (as well as non-Muslim background) seeking asylum in Germany as well as other beneficiaries such as practitioners, government agencies in Germany (i.e. Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth). The presented their research at the Hohenheimer Tage on Migration Law in January 2020 – the biggest conference on migration law in Germany and at the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens. The latter officially endorsed the project’s policy recommendations (Link: https://www.regenbogenportal.de/
https://www.regenbogenportal.de/materialien/detail/515?cHash=7e6a5b6c3e13ed41aa49933a026c9257).

The project further fostered the collaboration amongst academics, LGBTQI+ activists and refugees, NGO representatives, policy makers and politicians. As the convener of the Queer European Asylum Network, Dr. Tschalaer held a policy discussion forum for politicians, policy makers and NGOs on the implications of the Covid-19 pandemic on LGBTQI asylum seekers and two online stakeholder conferences. Both conferences received support by LGBTQI+ refugee organizations in Germany, the European Coalition of Cities Against Racism, the Heinrich Böll Foundation, ESRC, and Columbia University.