I spent most of my life hiding my true self because I knew that I would not be accepted by my family for who I truly am. I hid my secret from my parents and the world for many years, but one day, my secret was out and I was deported to my home-country, where homosexuality is illegal and a cultural taboo.
My family disowned me. They said I was no longer their son. Everyone in my family changed. They were ashamed of me.
As a gay man in Pakistan, my life was in danger. So, I had to flee and in May last year, I came to the UK.
I didn’t know how to apply for asylum. I didn’t know what the process involved. All I knew was that I had to save my life – that I had to go somewhere where I would be safe.
It took me weeks to find information on how to apply for asylum. No one would help me. I struggled a lot because I knew I needed a solicitor to help me represent my case to the Home Office but I didn’t know how to find one.
One day, I received a letter inviting me for my asylum interview in 10 days’ time. I panicked because I still didn’t have a solicitor.
So, I started going from one solicitor’s office to the next, asking for someone to take on my case. Three of them said they couldn’t help me. I was so disappointed. I wanted to give up but I knew that I had to continue searching because I didn’t have any other choice.
Finally, I got to the forth office and a solicitor there said she would help me. I felt so much better after that.
By the time I found my solicitor, I didn’t have much time left to understand everything and to prepare for the interview properly. But my solicitor and I tried our best.
A few months later, on my birthday, I got a letter saying that my case was rejected because, although the Home Office recognised that I would face persecution as a gay man in Pakistan, they did not accept that I was gay. My solicitor said that I should not give up. She said she would help me work on an appeal, and so we did.
We had a bit more time to gather evidence for the appeal. Talking about my sexuality publicly is not easy for me but my solicitor gave me the courage to speak out and tell the judge everything that he needed to know about my past and present life.
Two months ago, I was finally granted status. I thank my solicitor for assisting me during this critical time of my life. Legal aid representation is very important to anyone who is applying for asylum. In my case, I didn’t have money to pay for a solicitor myself, but I found a legal-aid funded solicitor who was very helpful.
I feel so much more secure now. I am living in a country now where I can just be myself and live openly. There is a law that allows me to live freely. I am relaxed now. I feel safe now.
I am now working hard to rebuild my life. I am looking forward to the next phase of my life.
*Naveed is a pseudonym to protect his identity.
New research by Refugee Action finds a fall in providers of more than half over the past decade has left ‘legal aid deserts’ where asylum applicants are missing out on vital representation for life and death cases. Read the full report, Tipping the scales: Access to justice in the asylum system.