A group of LGBT+ Syrian refugees launched a legal challenge against Britain on Monday, saying it offered them asylum but left them in Turkey, where their sexuality puts them in danger.
The 15 refugees have been forced to conceal their sexuality in Istanbul and are constantly at risk of attacks while they wait to be taken to Britain, lawyers representing them said.
“Pretty much every client that we spoke to mentioned that they had to essentially hide,” Sheroy Zaq, a solicitor at Duncan Lewis law firm representing the group, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“For some of them, the minute they leave their home, they have to wear a mask when they are walking down the street in Turkey, not only in terms of fear of physical and verbal abuse from the general public but also from authorities.”
A spokesman for the Home Office said: “We do not routinely comment on individual cases.”
Although homosexuality is legal in Turkey, LGBT+ people face widespread discrimination and lack legal protections.
At least 41 LGBT+ people were murdered in hate crimes between 2010 and 2014 in Turkey, rights groups said in a report to the United Nations in 2015. They also faced violent attacks, workplace discrimination and harassment, the report said.
All of those bringing the legal challenge were offered a safe haven in Britain under the Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Programme, according to the law firm.
They have been left waiting for up to two years in Istanbul, where they face double discrimination from both fellow refugees and Turkish people, said Zaq.
Solicitors for the group of refugees have written to the Home Office raising concerns and warning they are preparing to launch court action if the issues are not quickly resolved.
Long delays for those seeking asylum or waiting for resettlement in Britain must be addressed to avoid adding to stress and trauma for refugees, said Leila Zadeh, the executive director of the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group.
“The whole time that people are waiting they are suffering every single day as they cannot be themselves and get on with their lives,” she said.
“They are also living with the fear they are not ever going to be safe and not knowing if they are going to be forced back to the country they escaped at some point.”