LGBTQI+ asylum-seekers in Greece: A call for intersectional inclusivity


People with minority sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and/or sex characteristics (SOGIESC) have often been forced to flee their country and apply for international protection due to persecution and criminalisation. How are they treated by the asylum services and how does this affect their mental and physical health as well as the course of their application?

LGBTQI+ asylum seekers in Greece teaser image

Many societies and cultures consist of systemically imposed expectations as to what a ‘man’ and a ‘woman’ ought to be, often defined through a patriarchal, heteronormative and cisgendered lens. The people whose identities fall outside of the perceived norms may be subjected to marginalisation and discrimination. Minority sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and/or sex characteristics (SOGIESC)[1] is not a homogenous group; the lived experiences differ greatly, and the specific challenges experienced by people with multiple intersecting marginalised identities are often overlooked.

In the context of migration, people with minority SOGIESC have often been forced to flee their country and apply for international protection due to persecution and criminalisation.[2] Throughout their journey, from their country of origin, during transit and upon arrival to a safe country of reception, SOGIESC asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable to discrimination as well as psychological, physical and sexual violence.

Although SOGIESC asylum seekers consist of a diverse group of individuals, there are certain shared experiences that are particular for those who exist within the intersection of people who are both a SOGIESC minority and an asylum seeker. Prior to seeking asylum, people with diverse SOGIESC, in particular lesbian and bisexual asylum seekers, are disproportionately vulnerable to sexual violence.[3] This includes the so-called ‘corrective’ rape (also known as ‘curative’ rape),[4] which refers to the sexual assault of a person belonging to a SOGIESC minority perpetrated by the abuser with the specific intention of ‘correcting’ or ‘curing’ the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The heightened risk of becoming a survivor of sexual violence extends to transgender individuals and people with diverse gender identity,[5] which is further aggravated because of the isolation and exclusion from services.[6]

Not a ‘vulnerable’ group for the Greek Asylum Code

Even after arriving to a safe country, asylum seekers with minority SOGIESC continue to be ‘at particular risk of discrimination, exclusion, harassment and violence, including sexual violence, in reception and detention centres.’[7] In Greece, the generalised lack of understanding and the absence of an intersectional approach by the authorities leads to a failure to recognise the particular challenges SOGIESC asylum seekers face. As a consequence, the reception conditions are not adapted to their specific needs and they are placed in unsafe environments without the necessary protective measures.

Despite the guidelines of UNHCR which recommends that the risk of violence due to sexual orientation and/or gender identity should be taken into consideration during the vulnerability assessments,[8] SOGIESC asylum seekers are not recognised as a ‘vulnerable’ group by the Greek law 'Asylum Code' (4939/2022) and therefore do not benefit from the protective measures.[9] The Code identifies vulnerable groups as: ‘children; unaccompanied children; direct relatives of victims of shipwrecks […]; disabled persons; elderly; pregnant women; single parents with minor children; victims of human trafficking; persons with serious illness; persons with cognitive or mental disability and victims of torture, rape or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence such as victims of female genital mutilation.’[10] Although people with minority SOGIESC are disproportionately affected by the abovementioned violence,[11] the vulnerability criterion fails to recognise the unique and compounding risks of being an asylum-seeker on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.

To assess whether someone has been subjected to one of the abovementioned vulnerabilities, a vulnerability assessment is conducted upon arrival to Greece during the reception and identification procedure. However, this assessment is significantly flawed due to amongst other reasons, systemic gaps, procedural issues, lack of specialised personnel and the low quality of medical and psychosocial assessments. In Greece, the reception and identification procedure frequently ends without a real assessment having been carried out due to delays and lack of capacity of the competent health authority, the National Public Health Organization (EODY).[12] As many SOGIESC asylum seekers experience feelings of shame about their orientation or identity attributable to compelled concealment in their country of origin and traumatic instances which occurred on account of their SOGIESC, a safe space is an essential prerequisite for disclosure of personal and sensitive information relevant to the assessment. Lack of staff and training, as well as expeditious vulnerability assessment procedures sometimes lasting only a few minutes, are factors not conducive to creating a safe environment.[13] The rushed assessment conducted without inclusive and specialised training means that the vulnerabilities of SOGIESC asylum applicants, such as serious forms of psychological, physical, or sexual violence, are likely to be missed.[14]

As sexual orientation and gender identity are not considered to be vulnerabilities by themselves, and the recognised vulnerabilities listed are often not identified during the assessment, many SOGIESC asylum seekers are not entitled to appropriate safe reception conditions nor are their specific needs taken into consideration.

Inappropriate reception conditions

Since the end of 2022, access to appropriate accommodation significantly worsened following the Greek government’s decision to close the ESTIA II program which provided housing for vulnerable asylum seekers. This decision has been highly criticised by several NGOs and Human Rights Organisations, including Fenix.[15] Since then, the Greek government has still not formed a new ESTIA accommodation scheme for vulnerable asylum seekers, contrary to the information provided to the Greek Ombudsman[16] and submissions to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe,[17] where it was wrongly stated that “a new ESTIA 21” accommodation program is operating.[18] This government decision left thousands of extremely vulnerable asylum seekers without humane and adequate accommodation and proper care.[19]

Without appropriate accommodation, reception conditions or programs, SOGIESC asylum seekers are forced to live in the same accommodation as non-SOGIESC asylum seekers (‘mixed housing’), often in overcrowded conditions that offer little privacy or respite. These concerns have been echoed by the Greek Ombudsman, who stressed the dangers of the current reception policies for SOGIESC asylum seekers,[20] in line with “National Strategy for equality of LGBTQI+ persons”.[21]

The unsafe environment forces asylum seekers to conceal their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in order to protect themselves from stigma and victimisation. Although concealment serves as a pre-emptive form of protection, it fails to mitigate the effect on their mental health. Compelled concealment has been identified as a key factor in the disparity of health outcomes between people with diverse SOGIESC and those without. Just some of the mental health implications include an increased risk of anxiety disorders, depression, substance misuse, feeling of alienation, shame, and negative perceptions of oneself.[22] One asylum seeker residing in the Closed Control Access Centre (CCAC) of Lesvos, previously known as Mavrovouni refugee camp, stated that ‘it’s very hard to hide your real self, it’s like being a shadow of yourself’.[23]

The situation on the Aegean islands further deteriorated from July 2023 following a significant increase in the number of arrivals.[24] On Lesvos, this led to an increase in the number of residents housed in the CCAC and consequently a deterioration in living conditions accentuated by the overcrowding. The reception conditions for arrivals were particularly deplorable and fell shamefully below the standard for basic living conditions.[25] The increase of arrivals also resulted in a delay to be registered, during which time asylum seekers were unable to leave the camp. During this de facto detention, asylum seekers were residing in large RUB-halls shared between men, women, and children, often without mattresses,[26] and void of any privacy or protective measures.[27] The delays in registration, alongside the insecurity, overcrowding and lack of privacy which it entailed, caused a rise in SOGIESC applicants being ‘outed’. For some applicants, this led to serious physical assaults and attacks.[28] Even after being assaulted, SOGIESC asylum seekers had limited or no access to the medical and psychological care they needed as they were unable to leave the camp.[29]

SOGIESC asylum seekers’ safety is at risk as a direct result of the Greek authorities’ policy decisions. The Greek authorities have previously justified their reluctance to provide suitable accommodation for SOGIESC asylum seekers on the basis that providing safe reception conditions to SOGIESC applicants would be discrimination against non-SOGIESC asylum seekers.[30] The reasoning fails to consider the intersectional specificities of SOGIESC asylum seekers, which makes them more vulnerable to marginalisation and assault in this context.[31] This justification is emblematic of the approach, which infiltrates all aspects of the asylum procedure. The chronic lack of understanding and training on SOGIESC matters reflects not only in the reception conditions, but also seeps into the assessment of asylum applications.

Visible lack of training

Compelled concealment, traumatic experiences and cultural considerations appear not to be taken into consideration throughout the asylum interview. A survey revealed that 60% of participants were asked inappropriate questions relating to their sexual practice and behaviour during their interview in Greece in 2023.[32] In the same vein, SOGIESC asylum seekers who have children or have been previously married to the opposite sex are likely to be met with scepticism during the interview.[33] For some asylum seekers, it has even been the grounds for rejection.[34] This is illustrative of a non-intersectional approach which fails to recognise that many SOGIESC asylum seekers had to hide their sexual orientation and are more likely to have survived sexual violence in their country of origin. Asylum seekers are then further isolated by the phrasing of sexual orientation or gender identity as a choice or a lifestyle.[35] For victims of sexual or physical violence, ‘choice’ insinuates that the trauma they suffered resulted from ‘bad decisions’ they made.

The visible lack of training of the Greek Asylum Service’s caseworkers remains of serious concern.[36] Not only might it have a negative impact on the applicant’s well-being and mental health, but it may also have a tangible impact on the outcome of their asylum application. The continuation of compelled concealment and the lack of trust in the authorities,[37] compounded with the lack of SOGIESC-inclusive training, failure to recognise SOGIESC-specific traumatic experiences and Western biases during the credibility assessment are all major concerns at the root of the high proportion of applicants with diverse SOGIESC having their asylum claims rejected.[38]

The Greek authorities’ lack of an intersectional and SOGIESC-inclusive approach significantly impacts the rights and wellbeing of SOGIESC asylum seekers throughout the procedure. There are significant and persistent gaps that remain in the reception conditions and during the examination of the asylum application. After SOGIESC asylum seekers have likely endured traumatic incidents, fled their country, and arrived in Greece, they are then forced to live in inappropriate reception conditions, where they are at higher risk of being assaulted and face a multitude of barriers stemming from an absence of knowledge. The lack of a safe environment, security, and recognition of their SOGIESC-specific experiences can lead to an inability to process previous trauma as well as active re-traumatisation and serve as a barrier to their right to asylum. 

Although there is a proposed reform to the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), the ongoing discussions and agreements offer little hope. Instead of addressing and amending the serious concerns outlined, the proposed reform (EU Pact) disproportionately focuses on the responsible Member States. As a result, the agreements fail to consist of, or provide adequate attention to, these vulnerabilities, the need for improved reception conditions and guidance on asylum interviews.


Contributor: Asterios Kanavos


[1] SOGIESC is being used instead of LGBTQI+ as it is more fluid, inclusive and less culturally dependent.

[2] FenixAid, January 2022, ‘Naming and Shaming: Harmful asylum procedures for sexual orientation and gender identity claims on Lesvos’.

[3] UNHCR, 4 June 2021, LGBTQI+ persons in forced displacement and statelessness: protection and solutions, available at:; Fenix (n 2); IOM, January 2023, Global Report: Mapping and Research to Strengthen Protection and Assistance Measures for Migrants with diverse SOGIESC, available at:

[4] UNHCR (n 3) para 17.

[5] UNHCR (n 3) para 18.

[6] UNHCR (n 3) para 18.

[7] European Commission, 2020, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on Union of Equality: LGBTIQ Equality Strategy 2020-2025, COM(2020) 698 final, 2025_en.pdf, p. 20.

[8] UNHCR, et al., 2016, Vulnerability Screening Tool, available at:, p. 12.

[9] Although sexual orientation and gender identity are not considered for the vulnerabilities and the subsequent protections, sexual orientation and gender identity are considered for the entitlement of procedural guarantees, such as having breaks during the interview (Asylum Code, Article 72; Directive 2013/32/EU, Preamble 29).

[10] Article 1(λγ) of Law 4939/2022.

[11] UNHCR (n 3); Fenix (n 2); Carmelo Danisi, Moira Dustin, Nuno Ferreira, Nina Held, 2021, Queering Asylum in Europe: Legal and Social Experiences of Seeking International Protection on grounds of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, pp. 115-116, 141-160.

[12] Equal Rights Beyond Borders, HIAS Greece and RSA, September 2022, The state of the border procedure on the Greek islands, available at:, pp. 15 –16.  

[13] AIDA et GCR, 2023, Country Report: Identification, Greece, available at:

[14] AIDA, 08 June 2023, Greece - Country report: Identification, available at:; RSA, et al., 11 October 2022, The state of the border procedure on the Greek islands, available at:

[15] Fenix, 6 December 2022, Closure of ESTIA II: a political choice behind its closure, available at:

[16] Prot no. 358160/19.07.2023 response of the General Secreteriat for reception of asylum seekers to the Prot. no. 325958/61698/2022 dated 11.11.2023 Greek Ombudsman letter to RIS of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum after a complaint submitted by FENIX regarding the closure of ESTIA II program.

[17] concerning the execution of the famous M.S.S. judgement

[18] 1475th meeting (September 2023) (DH) - Rules 9.2 and 9.6 - Reply from the authorities (08/08/2023) following a communication from an NGO in the cases of M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece and RAHIMI v. Greece (Applications No. 30696/09, 8687/08) [anglais uniquement], DH-DD(2023)1003 23/08/2023, available at:,  para 5.

[19] Fenix, 31 October 2022, Closure of ESTIA II: thousands of extremely vulnerable asylum seekers to be left without humane and adequate accommodation and proper care, available at:

[20] Prot. no. 325958/61698/2022 dated 11.11.2023 Greek Ombudsman letter to RIS of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum after a complaint submitted by FENIX regarding the closure of ESTIA II program; Fenix, 31 October 2022, Closure of ESTIA II: thousands of extremely vulnerable asylum seekers to be left without humane and adequate accommodation and proper care, available at: .

[21] National Strategy for equality of LGBTQI+ persons, p. 25-27 available at:

[22] B and C v Switzerland (Applications nos. 889/19 and 43987/16) (ECtHR, 2020); James Michael Brennan, 2021, Hiding the Authentic Self: Concealment of Gender and Sexual Identity and its Consequences for Authenticity and Psychological Well-being, available at:; Pachankis, J. E., 2007, The psychological implications of concealing a stigma: A cognitive-affective behavioural model, available at:; UNHCR, 23 October 2012, Guidelines on International Protection NO. 9: Claims to Refugee Status based on Sexual Orientation and/or Gender Identity within the context of Article 1A(2) of the 1951 Convention and/or its 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, available at:, para 33.

[23] Fenix, 18 April 2023, “It’s like being a shadow of yourself”: Closed Camps and Compelled Concealment, available at:

[24] See Aegean Boat Report, Monthly Reports, available at:

[25] Fenix (n 2) p. 6.

[26] Fenix, 08 September 2023, Joint Statement – Three Years After Moria Burned Down The Promise “No More Morias” Remains and Empty One, available at:, p. 1.

[27] Fenix, at al., 19 September 2023, Unlawful detention and worsening conditions: Over 4,000 asylum seekers unlawfully detained on Samos and Lesvos, available at:

[28] Results obtained from focus groups and observations from Fenix Humanitarian Legal Aid, an organisation which provides holistic legal aid in Greece, where almost half of the SOGIESC asylum seekers who received their services in the previous month had been physically assaulted whilst residing in Mavrovouni camp on Lesvos on account of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

[30] The Secretary General for Reception response to a joint letter on reception conditions for LGBTQI+ applicants.

[31] Fenix, 17 May 2023, No Safe Place : SOGIESC Asylum Seekers & Reception Conditions Policies, available at:; see also European Parliament, May 2022, The rights of LGBTI people in the European Union, available at:  

[32] Fenix Humanitarian Legal Aid, in collaboration with NGOs throughout Greece, conducted a Greek-wide survey for SOGIESC applicant on asylum interview questions - the responses were informed by transcripts (‘survey’). Questions on sexual practices or behaviour is prohibited under the EU law, see Joined Cases C-148/13 to C-150/13, A, B, C v Staatssecretaris van Veiligheid en Justitie, (2014, CJEU) (ABC decision); Applicant (Iran) v Asylum Office (Greece), Case no: 16937/2019.

[33] 21% of respondents reported questions of scepticism after revealing they had a child (Survey, n 32) See also: IOM (n 3); UNHCR, 4 June 2021, LGBTQI+ persons in forced displacement and statelessness: protection and solutions, available at:, para 16–18, 57(d); Fenix, January 2022, Naming and Shaming: Harmful asylum procedures for sexual orientation and gender identity claims on Lesvos, available at:, p. 18.

[34] See ‘Survey’ (n 32).

[35] ‘Why did you choose this lifestyle?’ and ‘You lived in a country where homosexuality is a crime. Before proceeding to this sexual choice, have you been aware of the difficulties you'd have to face?’ were asked in total to half of the respondents (Survey n 32).

[36] The current standard is contrary to European Union legislation and UNHCR guidelines, which prescribe that caseworkers conducting interviews must be adequately trained and competent in the assessment of sexual orientation and gender identity. See: Asylum Procedures Directive, Articles 4(3) and 15(3); United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 23 October 2012, Guidelines on international protection no. 9: Claims to Refugee Status based on Sexual Orientation and/or Gender Identity within the context of Article 1A(2) of the 1951 Convention and/or its 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees.

[37] IOM (n 3) pp. 14, 30-31.

[38] IOM (n 3) p. 14.