COVID-19 and Queer Asylum Symposium

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29.04.2020 – Online Event


COVID-19 & Queer Asylum was a virtual symposium featuring NGO representatives, lawyers and judges working on queer asylum, LGBTQI+ activists and LGBTQI+ persons seeking asylum/refugees from Germany. The Symposium consisted of three panels followed by a information session led by lawyers and LGBTQI+ asylum practitioners that allowed for a Q&A around COVID-19 and LGBTQI+ asylum. 

The symposium was intended to provide a platform for discussing the manner in which such pandemic and its political responses affects a set of people who remain by and large invisible in discussions on COVID-19. While the coronavirus pandemic increased the uncertainty about the future for most refugees, LGBTQI+ persons on the move are hit particularly hard. For LGBTQI+ refugees in Germany, as elsewhere in Europe, the extreme social isolation and the reliving of certain trauma as experienced in unsafe environments could cost them their mental and economic stability.  

The symposium explored such questions as: How does the COVID-19 crisis exacerbate isolation for LGBTQI+ refugees? How does such pandemic re-trigger trauma and affect the mental health of LGBTQI+ refugees? To what extent is access to community and health services compromised? How does COVID-19 strengthen solidarity and community? How do postponed asylum decisions and hearings affect LGBTQI+ persons everyday life? How does the lack of hygiene in cramped asylum camps particularly affect those with autoimmune deficiencies? 


The symposium featured four panels. The recordings can be found below or on our Facebook page.

Panel #1: A European Perspective on COVID-19 and Queer Asylum

Moderated by the Council of Europe, this first panel furthers a European perspective on COVID-19 and queer asylum. The panel puts into conversation policy makers, academics and activists to discuss the following questions: How have governments responded to the COVID-19 crisis as it relates to migration and asylum? How have such responses affected LGBTQI+ persons in different countries? What can we learn from the different practices that exists in different national contexts?

This panel opens with a short welcome remark from the main organizer Mengia Tschalaer (University of Bristol).


Luna Lara Liboni is Project Manager at the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Unit of the Council of Europe, where her work includes issues related to LGBTI asylum. Before joining the Council, she worked with the Italian Coalition for Civil Liberties and Rights (CILD) and with the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration (ORAM). In the last 3 years, Luna has been focusing on the lack of consistency in practices of European States in relation to LGBTI asylum cases, especially within the Common European Asylum System. In doing so, she has been joining different discussions with institutions and civil society organisations at the Italian and European level as an expert and produced a series of articles on the topic.


Nuno Ferreira is a Professor of Law at the University of Sussex. Previously, he was a Senior Lecturer at the University of Liverpool and Lecturer at the University of Manchester. He has also been a Visiting Professor at Wuhan University and the University of Lisbon, and guest scholar at the University of Girona and the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. Nuno is a Horizon 2020 ERC Starting Grant recipient, leading the project SOGICA (2016-2020), and co-director of the Sussex Centre for Human Rights Research.

Jonathan Mastellari graduated in development and communication studies from University of Bologna. Since 2012 he works on intersectionality and with a focus on gender and the lgbtiaq+ community and needs (senior, people with disabilities, second generation, migrant and asylum seekers). In 2012 he started offering legal support to queer asylum seekers in Italy. In 2019, he co-founded a new organization called IAM – Intersectionalities And More that work minorities in lgbtiaq+ community which features a specific help desk for queer migrants and asylum seekers.

Leila Zadeh is the Executive Director of the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG). UKLGIG has been supporting LGBTQI+ people through the asylum system since 2003. They provide psychosocial and emotional support, legal advice and information, and advocate for changes in government policy and practice. Before joining UKLGIG, Leila worked in international development and advocated for the rights of LGBTQI+ people globally. Leila came to the UK as part of a refugee family when she was 13 months old.

Anbid Zaman is a LGBTQI Human Rights defender currently living in Cologne, Germany. From the age of sixteen, he started his engagement in LGBTI human rights, gender equality, environmental and social justice in Bangladesh. He worked for the first ever Bangladeshi LGBTI magazine publishing organisation Roopbaan. Since living in Germany, Anbid started working with both German and other European organisations. He joined the executive board of Aktionsbündnis gegen Homophobie e.V. on March 2017 and recently got elected to represent Central Asian and European LGBTI Youth to the ILGA World Intersectional Committee focusing on LGBTI youth globally. 

Panel #2: Isolation and Trauma

The second panel on isolation and trauma addressed the manner in which COVID-19 can exacerbate the isolation of LGBTQI+ persons seeking asylum and refugees and could potentially re-trigger trauma. What does social isolation/social distancing mean for LGBTQI+ refugees? How could COVID-19 re-trigger trauma and affect mental and physical health? What does safety mean for LGBTQI+ refugees in light of the pandemic? How does this affect work opportunities? How does COVID-19 affect visions of the future?


Danijel Benjamin Ćubelić is Head of Antidiscrimination at the Office for Equal Opportunities of the City of Heidelberg, Germany. He serves on the advisory board for “Acceptance and Equal Rights” of the state of Baden-Württemberg and as a deputy board member of the German Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency. He is also an adjunct lecturer at the Department for the Study of Religions, Heidelberg University and Speaker of the Islam research group of the German Association for the Study of Religions. Since January 2020, he is managing director of the European Coalition of Cities against Racism.


Lilith Raza is a transwoman with migration background. She is working for the rights of LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers in Germany since 2015. Since November 2017, she is working for the German wide LSVD e.V Project “Queers Refugees Deutschland”. The aim of the new LSVD project “Queer Refugees Deutschland” is to network the structures existing throughout Germany as well as refugee LGBTI activists and to support them in their work.

Rzouga Selmi is a non-binary Tunisian refugee LGBT*IQ+ activist  former executive office member of the first Tunisian Queer organisation, the tunisian organization for justice and equality DAMJ, and a MSM sexual health peer educator. Rzouga fled to Germany and sought asylum inDecember  2017 where they started advocating for queer refugees rights and engaged with PLUS e.V Mannheim and started volunteering as the queer refugees group leader. They also use their drag platform for raising awareness about Queer rights in the Middle East and north Africa.

Julia Serdarov has an MA in Political Sciences. She is an activists in antiracist and queer-feminist movements and worked in different NGOs (Bayerischer Flüchtlingsrat, Interventionsstelle für Opfer Häuslicher Gewalt, LeTRa). She is involved in LGBTI refugee counseling, press work and campaigns as well as lobby work.

Ibrahim Willeke, gay activist from Lebanon, arrived in Germany at the end 2015 after having survived being thrown off the third floor because of his sexuality. In 2016, he founded SOFRA Cologne, the first LGBTIQ self-organized group from and for LGBTIQ refugees. He was granted subsidiary protection in 2017. He is currently in charge for documenting cases of violence against LGBTIQ refugees in NRW at Rubicon in Cologne. In 2019 he got married to the man of his dreams. Today, Ibrahim Willeke fights for the visibility and the rights of LGBTIQ refugees in Germany.

Panel #3: Access to Community and Health Support

The third panel on access to community, health, and legal support initiated a conversation on how COVID-19 changes LGBTQI+ refugees access to community and social and legal support. What are the concerns that arise with COVID-19 as particularly refugees become increasingly cut off from social and legal services? What kind of community support is still there? What kind of health care is provided for LGBTQI+ refugees? What does this mean for trans* who are in need of their hormones and persons with HIV?


Harpreet Kaur Cholia is an independent researcher, lecturer, practitioner and advisor in the field of critical migration studies, feminism, empowerment, anti-racism and anti-discrimination. As the president of the Refugee Council of Hessen, Germany, Cholia has been working for the rights of refugees and their rights to remain in Germany. She has been recently appointed to head of the new and innovative department “Diversity and Democracy” at the social enterprise GFFB in Frankfurt am Main, where she is working on anti-racism, feminist and diversity in the framework of democracy building. Cholia is also a psycho-social counsellor at “Response. Hessen” at the Education Centre Anne Frank in Frankfurt. There she provides one to one counselling to victims of right-wing and racist violence.


Ahmed Awadalla is an activist, educator, psychosocial worker and writer from Egypt. Ahmed holds a degree in pharmaceutical sciences. For the last decade, their work focuses on the intersections between health, sexuality, and migration. Ahmed is currently working at Berliner Aids-Hilfe and Checkpoint BLN providing counseling and information on HIV/AIDS and sexual health. He is also engaged in anti-racist activism, particularly from a queer refugees perspective. Their writing has been featured in several platforms and can also be accessed on their blog Rebel with A Cause.

Mira is a Syrian LGBTQ activist, a project worker at The Vlsp* project Stuttgart and a peer counselor at the LGBTIQ  network of Baden-Württemberg.

Panel #4: Legal Information Session

The information session on COVID-19 and queer asylum discussed the legal challenges LGBTQI+ refugees face from the perspectives of lawyers and NGOs. This session focuses, amongst others, on how COVID-19 affects claimants access to the courts and to legal support (lawyers, NGOs etc.) You find a good overview of LGBTI asylum law in Germany, including a short summary of the challenges COVID-19 poses for LGBTI asylum cases here.


Philipp Braun, currently works as a volunteer for LSVD with LGBTI refugees in Germany – previously he had served as an LSVD and ILGA-Europe board member. From 2006 to 2008 he also served as Co-Secretary General of ILGA – the global LGBTI federation with currently over 1600 member organisations from 146 UN member states. In March 2020 Asyl Magazin published a comment he co-authored on the landmark decisions by the German Constitutional Court in December 2019 and January 2020 on LGBTI refugees. 


Jonathan Leuschner is an immigration lawyer based in Frankfurt/Germany. Jonathan studied law in Cologne and Fribourg/Switzerland and gained practical experience in Brussels and São Paulo. His work focuses on family reunification and asylum law, in particular the legal support of unaccompanied minors and the LGBTQI+ community.”

Alva Träbert is a feminist sociologist and gender historian. Her work focuses on queer identities and queer belonging, gender-based violence, anti-queer/anti-trans discrimination and complex social inequality. She is currently the head of a state-wide training program in North Rhine-Westphalia supporting refugee camp management and staff in implementing violence protection measures for queer and trans occupants. She also provides counselling and advocacy for refugees claiming asylum based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. 

A Note from the Organizers

COVID-19 and Queer Asylum was an online event that took place in lieu of the planned face-to-face conference ‘Under the European Asylum Rainbow: Queer Intersectional Challenges 2020” that was scheduled for 29th April 2020. Instead of canceling the conference, we decided to initiate a conversation on how COVID-19 affects one of the most vulnerable minority group; LGBTQI+ persons seeking asylum and refugees.

This symposium was organized by Mengia Tschalaer (University of Bristol) in collaboration with Knud Wechterstein (Rainbow Refugees Frankfurt), Anbid Zaman (Aktionsbündnis gegen Homophobie; SOGICA Advisory Board Member), Lilith Raza (Lesbian and Gay Association in Germany), Nina Held (University of Sussex, SOGICA), Magdalena Müssig (Bundesstiftung Magnus Hirschfeld), Mohammad Dalla (Bundesstiftung Magnus Hirschfeld), Danijel Ćubelić (European Coalition of Cities Against Racism), Harpreet Cholia (Refugee Council Hessen), and Luna Liboni (Council of Europe).