I fled Zimbabwe two decades ago to come to the UK after years of harassment as a member of the LGBT+ community. I can relate only too well to what people from the same background in Afghanistan are experiencing right now.
In Zimbabwe, like in Afghanistan, life for LGBT+ people was and remains extremely tough. Social attitudes and public opinion are deeply prejudiced, despite attempts by brave activists to challenge them. Religious institutions and even their own families frequently ostracise LGBT+ people, and they are denied access to essential services, education, and even employment. I regularly hear of people subjecting individuals to corrective rape, beatings and other barbaric practices. It is almost impossible to feel safe and get ahead as a member of the LGBT+ community in Zimbabwe.
As a national manager at LGBT+ refugee charity, Micro Rainbow, I work closely with many LGBT+ refugees from Afghanistan, and I know that, even once they make it to the UK, life can still be really challenging.
When I arrived in the UK, I was a very ambitious young person. I wanted to progress in my career and be an active member of my community. But there were many additional barriers I had to face, from having to start afresh in a new country, to integrating into a whole new social ecosystem, understanding the UK job market and upskilling. I discovered that obtaining my refugee status was only the start of a long path towards finding stable employment.
LGBT+ refugees are doubly vulnerable and face more barriers to finding jobs. This is because when refugees reach the UK they are often on their own, which means that they are isolated from social and professional networks. At Micro Rainbow, we are sometimes contacted by LGBT+ refugees who are being bullied by other refugees and are sometimes assaulted. As a result, some will hide. They need extra support to feel safe, and while each individual refugee’s needs are unique, there are a few things that most LGBT+ refugees would benefit from.
My life was truly changed by the mentorship opportunities that I received. Shortly after arriving in the UK, I became a founding member of UK Black Pride. Over the years, UK Black Pride and its members helped me discover my identity and fully express myself. I remain very involved to this day as the chair of the board of trustees. Having supportive mentors has allowed me to grow professionally, challenge myself and build the confidence that I had lost after years of being unemployed.
Micro Rainbow is currently working in collaboration with Stonewall and the Tent Partnership for Refugees, a network of over 170 major companies committed to refugees’ economic integration, to launch a mentorship initiative especially for LGBT+ refugees in the UK. It will provide mentorship opportunities for over 500 refugees at some of the UK’s biggest companies, including Coca-Cola, GSK and Unilever.
The programme will support LGBT+ refugees by helping them build essential skills to succeed professionally, from CV writing, to advising on interview etiquette and expanding their professional networks.
Mentorship programmes are a win-win for both refugees and businesses. Refugees benefit from broadening their professional network and learning how to navigate the UK job market, while mentors at companies who work with LGBT+ refugees are able to build on their communication skills and broaden their horizons.
Based on my experiences, I strongly believe that businesses can play a transformational role in the lives of refugees like me.
Moud Goba is a national manager at Micro Rainbow and the chair of trustees at UK Black Pride
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