Doubly vulnerable: Being LGBTI and Seeking Asylum in Hungary.

Despite constituting a small percentage of asylum seekers, this minority faces a plethora of challenges that threaten their physical and psychological well-being.

Ramen left Iran, alone, two years ago. He embarked on a journey to align his physical gender with his psychological one. Ramen was destined for Italy but his fingerprint trapped him in Hungary because of the European Union’s Dublin Agreement, which ties asylum seekers to the first country they set foot in for processing.

“I am alone all the time, if my family accepted me, I would not have come here, and I would not be here.”

The vulnerability of asylum seekers and refugees in Hungary is immense, considering the wide-spread hate propaganda deeming foreigners as the enemy. Gábor Gyulai of the NGO Hungarian Helsinki Committee asserts that the government’s mentality can “prepare the context for violence and extremely worrying trends in Hungarian society.”

Coming to Hungary

 “The Hungarian government has invested a tremendous amount of Hungarian taxpayer’s money, time, and other resources in xenophobic propaganda in the last three years. This is something that is absolutely unheard of in modern-day democratic Europe,” Gyulai says.

But for LGBTI individuals, their vulnerability is double-weighted. Only in January did the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ban a range of humiliating and stigmatizing credibility testing methods that were used to confirm an asylum-seeker’s sexual-emotional orientation in Hungary. These practices included stereotypically based judgments and humiliating testing such as so-called ‘phallometry’, where the client’s sexual excitation is measured in conjunction with a particular pornographic material.

“I personally saw several so-called ‘expert’ opinions in these cases which said that the applicant cannot be lesbian because she identifies strongly with the mother role and she identifies strongly with a female identity,” says Gyulai.

“This is, of course, based on a stereotypical presumption that is absolutely not valid, and is also a violation of the equal treatment obligation which is embedded very strongly in different places of Europe,” he said.

Gyulai says that while things are legislatively okay, he believes there are still “lots of gaps and problems.”

Where is the Support

People who identify as LGBTI constitute only a small percentage of asylum seekers and refugees in Hungary which, perhaps, gives reason to the lack of support for them.

Lilla Zentai, social worker for Menedek Hungarian Association for Migrants, says that, “as an asylum seeker or refugee, the only protection that you receive in Hungary is the paper that says that you can stay here – no other support, such as financial or housing.”

This has put immense stress on Ramin, who left his home country in order to undergo the process of gender realignment.

“I don’t want anything from Hungary. I want to be my gender, I don’t want anything else,” he said.

Currently Ramin cannot legally start the transition process due to lack of Hungarian citizenship, so he has had to turn to illegal methods.

“I just want to be normal like everybody else.”

Consideration taking a Back Seat

Gyulai also perceives that there is insufficient training to deal with LGBTI individuals, which can most likely be accounted to the small percentage of LGBTI clients. In Ramin’s asylum-seeking experience he often felt severely uncomfortable. The authorities gave little to no consideration for the position Ramin was in when placing him in housing with other asylum-seekers.

“This is a problem that is not being talked about or revealed, that no one is even considering changing,” says Zentai

Both Zentai and Gyulai describe the entire Hungarian asylum system as “dysfunctional”, making the likelihood that LGBTI support will improve doubtful. Gyulai further expressed that LGBTI individuals may bear the brunt of Hungary’s volatile political situation, with regards to a spread of xenophobia and misperceptions of LGBTI people.

However, Gyulai places faith in Hungary’s strong NGO sector.

“I don’t think Hungary offers positive opportunities for change, but at least it has a relatively strong NGO sector,” Gyulai says.

“If there is one strength in this whole game it’s the NGO sector. It’s no wonder why the government’s last attempt is to actually starve and strangle the remaining NGO sector that can still criticise the anti-democratic and hatred policies of this government.”