Micro Rainbow is the frontline organisation that has supported and welcomed 82 LGBTQ+ people to the UK from Afghanistan and their family members over the last twelve months.

One year since the fall of Kabul, the charity reflects on the impact it has had on the lives of those LGBTQ+ people who reached safety in the UK and asked them for their views.

Finding safety

Arriving to the UK has been life saving for many of the people Micro Rainbow supports. Due to their background, jobs or activism, they risked violence, abuse and potentially death by the Taliban. We have experienced first had the relief that people feel when they reach UK soil, the joy to be able to start express their LGBTQI identities, the excitement to find a supportive LGBTQI community.

“Living in the UK means life, legal freedom, work, education, opportunities and purpose to me,” explained one of the LGBTQ+ Afghans that Micro Rainbow supports. “Here I have all the facilities to make my dreams come true. Above all, personal freedom is important to me. Here I am free. There is no meaning in life without freedom. If I had stayed in Afghanistan, I would not even have the right to grow my own beard and hair, but here everyone has legal freedom and respect for individual freedom.”

Another said: “For me leaving Afghan was like escaping from a paradise that had just turned to a hell because of the fall of the country into the hands of the Taliban. I was chasing a destiny that was full of uncertainties and hopes meanwhile. I was leaving my home country, my family and my loved ones behind but I was escaping for my life and for my future.”

“I am very happy, and I feel that a miracle happened in my life,” a third said.

Managing loss and trauma

Micro Rainbow provides a variety of integration services that include workshops on sexual health, housing, employability, the NHS and much more. A crucial element of the support is one-to-one case work which is tailored to the needs of each individual. LGBTQ+ people who have arrived to the UK are now safe, but the case work clearly shows how much trauma and loss people need to manage and overcome. Some refugees have been tortured and beaten by the Taliban, some will never see their parents ever again, and some have lost their LGBTQI partners at the hands of the regime.

“I miss my whole country, because every day of my life has turned into sweet memories for me and when I remember them, I cry, but most of all I miss my parents and boyfriend,” one person explained. “Although my relationship with my parents is not very good lately because of my sexual orientation, but still I cannot forget them even for a moment. They are very old and I am worried if I will see them again or not? Because as long as the Taliban are in Afghanistan, I cannot go there and it takes time for the Taliban to disappear or reform. Also, my boyfriend’s separation makes me cry because he lives in another country and it’s hard to be together. I wish there was no man named Talib, then all this would not have happened.”

“I feel both happy and sad about escaping from Afghanistan,” another explained. “I feel happy because I started a new life and if I had stayed there, I am sure that by now I would have been killed by the Taliban or I would have been tortured. Because after the rule of the Taliban, the minorities in Afghanistan, especially the sexual minorities, lost their freedom and Afghanistan become hell for them.

“Although the Taliban announced a symbolic general amnesty, they do not allow sexual minorities freely or even to live. Also I feel sad about fleeing Afghanistan, because even though I call England my home, it still cannot replace my homeland. I was with my family in Afghanistan. I had a good job. I had friends.

“My social relations were very wide, but when I came here, I lost everything and started my life from zero. It will take time for me to fully immerse myself in this culture and society here. Also the situation of the remaining sexual minorities in Afghanistan, especially my close friends, makes me uncomfortable.

“They are currently experiencing the hardest days and nights of their lives. Some were even physically and sexually tortured by the Taliban. With all this, I am thankful that I arrived here alive, because myself and my life are more important than anything else. I wish there were no people named Taliban.”

“I miss my parents and my siblings back in Afghanistan,” a third shared. “I miss the decent life I had in Kabul and of course I miss Afghan food everyday.”

Another added: “[I miss] my loved one and helping my mum and sister when they need me more than ever. I want to be together in peace.”

Starting a new life

LGBTQ+ refugees can access CV writing, job interview and job search workshops, mentoring with a great variety of companies and access digital and financial inclusion workshops through Micro Rainbow’s moving on programme. They can also build new social safety nets and expand their connections in the community through Micro Rainbow’s social inclusion programme.   

Despite the traumatic events they have been through, it is remarkable to see the progress that so many LGBTQ+ Afghans have made in the few months that they have been in the UK. Some have attended college and improved their English; several have found jobs or secured a place at university.

“UK is great,” one Afghan refugee stated. “Full of opportunities with friendly people. I like the freedom here. The freedom of living under the rule of law.”

A second shared: “I like the individual freedom and the true implementation of the democratic system here, because here all people live freely. No one cares about anyone’s life and pursues their own goals. Also, I like the academic opportunities here, because there are ways and facilities to build personality and character in every field. If you want, you can make everything yourself here.”

“Being in the UK for almost a year now has been extraordinary,” said another. “I am happy I have made it to a safe place coming to the UK though it will take time to get integrated fully in to the British culture and society. On the other hand I am patiently waiting for my permanent house as living in a hotel room causes frustration and hopelessness.”

The sad reality that we need to come to terms with is that the majority of LGBTQ+ people from Afghanistan will remain in the country or in the region. They will remain in an environment where they need to hide who they really are, get married and make sure to never be caught or suspected of being LGBTQ+. It is heart-breaking. It is even more heart-breaking to know that this is a common narrative amongst the hundreds of LGBTQ+ migrants that Micro Rainbow supports every year.

The initial success in bringing over 80 LGBTQ+ people to safety to the UK shows that when there is political will, wonderful things can happen. Sadly, it is unclear to us if, when and how more LGBTQ+ will find safety in the UK, which is disheartening. More can and should be done by the UK government and many other governments around the world to save LGBTQ+ people’s lives and Micro Rainbow is ready to do its part in ensuring their smooth integration in the UK.

If you are an LGBTQI refugee from Afghanistan in the UK and in need of support you can contact Micro Rainbow’s helpline.

Founded in 2012, Micro Rainbow is the leading not for profit organisation in the UK supporting the integration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) people who flee persecution and reach the UK in search of safety. Micro Rainbow’s holistic approach to integration is based on three pillars: safe housing, social inclusion and employability support. These programmes ensure that LGBTQ+ refugees are not only safe but also able to live fulfilling, independent lives. Micro Rainbow has won a number of awards for innovation and as a top social enterprise and is recognised for creating the first ever national safe housing scheme for LGBTQ+ people fleeing persecution, with a current capacity of over 22,000 bed-nights a year. Find out more here.

Over the last 10 years, Micro Rainbow supported over 6,000 LGBTQI people fleeing persecution. You can join these efforts by becoming an ally or by making a donation today.