LGBTI Ukrainians are being cared for separately: ‘We are not afraid that someone will attack us’

The exact location may remain a secret, but it is a beautiful place: a small hotel near the Vondelpark in Amsterdam. A place where dozens of LGBTI refugees from Ukraine can feel safe.

A security guard opens the door. At the beginning of the hallway, to the right, is the kitchen, where casual talk is heard. There are six refrigerators and breakfast items everywhere, it smells of salami. At the end of the corridor, which opens out into a small garden, bird sounds come in. There are ten rental bikes in the garden and Sofiia (32). Sofia has short bleached hair, is dressed in black and has a small nose piercing. “I feel completely safe here,” she says. “The park has helped me fully recharge.”

She organized three editions of Kiev Pride, and last year she founded Ukraine Pride, which emerged from the queer techno scene. Last year, she staged a six-hour techno rave in the president’s office to draw attention to anti-discrimination laws when opponents tossed them with bottles.

This is the safest place for a queer person

Sofia (32)

Sofia has been working today to raise money for queer Ukrainians affected by the war. She does not have to be physically in Kiev for it, so Ukraine Pride sent her out of the country. “A strategic decision.”

She first went to Berlin and then moved on to the hotel in Amsterdam. She heard about it from a friend. “This is the safest place for a queer person.”

Sofia (32) has also been accommodated at the Amsterdam Hotel.
Photo by Simon Lenskens

In a spacious shed at the back of the garden are computers, and sometimes English is taught. Now there are Artem (24) and Mykhailo (20). They have been together for almost three years. Adult men are not allowed to leave Ukraine, but the boys work and study in Poland when the war started.

At the hotel, for the first time, they could publicly hold hands and kiss each other. “Now we are not afraid that someone will attack us. There is one big family here, “says Artem, the more energetic of the two. He says that in the morning he hugs everyone he meets who wants to. With 33 residents, the shelter is almost full.

Separate reception

In the Netherlands, it is not usual for refugees or asylum seekers who are LGBTI people to be accommodated separately. State Secretary Eric van der Burg (Migration, VVD) believes, like his predecessors, that asylum seekers should learn that LGBTI people are part of Dutch society. In addition, not all locations would be suitable for separate reception. A proposal by Volt, PvdA, GroenLinks and BIJ1 to set up special LGBTI departments in asylum seeker centers was rejected by the House of Representatives in November.

But discrimination and violence against LGBT people is the order of the day in asylum seeker centers. The interest group LGBT Asylum Support, which claims to be in contact with more than six hundred LGBTI asylum seekers, reports daily to the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA). The research agency WODC under the Ministry of Justice and Security proposed LGBTI departments to improve security at the end of last year, but then-Secretary of State Ankie Broekers-Knol (VVD) wrote that the COA can not respond to this due to lack of capacity and principle.

The COA still brings together LGBTI people “as much as possible,” a spokesman said, but stressed that there were no “LGBTI devices” yet. With exceptions: In the Dronten, LGBTI people live together in bungalows, and Ter Apel and Amsterdam also have separate LGBTI rooms.

The hotel in Amsterdam, like the reception of other Ukrainians, is not the responsibility of the COA. The idea comes from the activist Hans Verhoeven. “LGBTI departments are increasingly being set up, but often after incidents have occurred,” he says in early March, while still looking for a place. “I want to be at the forefront of it now.”

Shortly after the start of the war, Verhoeven sent a letter to the cabinet and the municipal council asking for permission to realize an LGBTI hostel in Amsterdam. A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice and Security emailed that it is “very nice that Amsterdam is helping with the reception of Ukrainians and is aware of vulnerable groups”.

‘Kill Rainbow Flag’

The hotel opened in mid-March. The leadership and supervision were given to the municipality by the Salvation Army. It is intentionally located in a beautiful, central location in the city, so LGBT people feel extra safe. It has been rented for a year. By the end of May, the LGBT hostel in Amsterdam for people from Ukraine was almost full. Occasionally someone leaves because they want to return to Ukraine or have found a place to live.

Hans Verhoeven will be in his temporary office at the hotel at the end of March. With his broad shoulders, clipped hair and black boxes, he looks like a soldier. Harry Doef, the health director of the Salvation Army, who sits across from him in a jacket and jeans, says: “If we were to get ten people to safety, then it would have been a success.”

LGBTI wards often occur only after incidents

Hans Verhoeven activist

Doef was also there in 2015, when many refugees arrived from Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea. “Unfortunately, I had to experience how to not guarantee safety.” In the three housing towers in Amsterdam-Zuidoost, where the refugees were housed, according to him, ugly things were shouted at gay asylum seekers and knocked on their shower. “We learned from that.”

The advantage of lhbti shelter is that lhbti-specific care can be better organized, says manager Michal Brzozowski. The shelter now houses two transgender people receiving hormones and five people receiving HIV care. “Residents are also more open about themselves because they know the leaders are gay.”

In a regular shelter, Artem and Mykhailo would not dare openly admit that they are gay, they say. “Then we have to hide our relationship again.” In the town where Artem comes from, Mykolaiv, one can be killed just for walking around with a rainbow flag, he says. Amsterdam has already changed Mykhailo after three weeks, he says. “I know now that I do not want to hide anymore.”

Leave a Comment