Rainbow Refugees Cologne
20 December 2021

Rainbow Refugees Cologne #BetterTogether

These past years have been very challenging to all of us, and many great projects lost their visibility due to the circumstances. This is why we have decided to skip most of the regular Christmas posts and instead use our reach to highlight inspiring projects and organizations in the neighborhood of all our Ruby destinations. Our spirit is to promote and support diversity and inclusion, which matters because we are #bettertogether.

 

Introducing Rainbow Refugees Cologne 

Germany, Cologne – “The secret to happiness is freedom, and the secret to freedom is courage,” a member of the board of Rainbow Refugees told me. Upon hearing his personal story, it became clear that one must lay out a lot of courage for a long time before daring to think about freedom and finding happiness is remotely possible when you are searching for a safe haven.

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community in societies where gender identities and sexuality deviating from a hetero-normative standard is still criminalized, violence and exclusion are a daily reality. Driven by personal experience, many individuals seek sanctuary in parts of the world where they can be themselves. Still, all too often, discrimination and exclusion follow them into the refugee camps, where they are confronted with the same exclusive attitudes and discriminating structures they are trying to leave behind.

When Ibrahim W., a member of the board of Rainbow Refugees, took the courageous decision to leave his home in 2015, his perilous journey westwards started. After months on the road, overshadowed by insecurity and attrition, he arrived in a dire medical situation in Cologne. Sick and exhausted, he was sent immediately to a hospital. “I originally wanted to go to the Netherlands because the LGBTQ+ rights are very developed there, and while I was laying in the hospital, I constantly said I don’t want to stay here, I want to go to the Netherlands. So the doctor asked me, “why are you insisting on going to the Netherlands?”  I responded that I am a gay man and want asylum based on my sexuality. Then the doctor leaned forward, and she said to me, “you are in Cologne, and this is the gayest city in Germany, and it is completely fine to be gay here.” Upon hearing the words ‘It is fine to be gay here,’ I decided to stay.”

After recovering, he was released from the hospital. He returned to his refugee camp, where he had to reexperience the same violence, prejudice, and exclusion he was trying to leave behind. Coming so far, yet still feeling the shackles of the past was his turning point, and he started speaking up and mobilizing help, not just for him but for everyone enduring the same fate. “The issues of LGBTQ+ refugees in Germany were not known, and no one collected the data about the cases.”

Immersed into researching a solution, he came across an upcoming meeting in Cologne organized by members of the local LGBTQ+ community debating how they can help LGBTQ+ refugees. This meeting was a turning point in his biography, the struggle persisted, but he had found allies who had good ties to representatives of Cologne. With their aid, they started a “Welcome Initiative for LGBTQ+ refugees,” which wasn’t an official organization but a collaboration of different groups that offered resources and time to support refugees. “When it comes to the administrative aspect of organizing something like this, it is important to have numbers, facts, and cases, and they asked me, where are the LGBTIQ refugees, how many are here, what are their needs, what are their problems? I think this was my first volunteer assignment, and I said, okay, I will provide you with the documentation you need.” The following month they documented dozens of cases where refugees had to endure violence due to their sexuality or gender identity. The initiative deepened its dialog with city representatives with the data in hand. With the realization that several LGBTQ+ individuals within the refugee community require attention and aid, a more formalized character of what was to become Rainbow Refugees started to emerge, a dinner table called Sofra – which means dining table.

© Rainbow Refugees Cologne
© Rainbow Refugees Cologne

Sofra Cologne

“When the first dinner started, I was surprised to see that almost 200 people came. People were relieved because we created a space for them where they can have dinner in peace.” Sofra achieved to be more than just a peaceful dinner. It became a place to network, support each other and share information which turned into a regular happening. They also organize a dining table for women called Sofra women, to create a safe space and empowering environment not only for gay but also lesbian individuals. In addition, the dining table is open to LGBTQ+ individuals of all ages because most of the meetings, offerings, and programs are for younger individuals but neglect older adults who desire to live their identity free from prejudice or social constraints. Sofra is a dining table for everyone who shares the joy of diversity and equality, regardless of age or origin.

“To be able to provide such a structure, you need financial and political support as well as a supportive community. That’s why, in 2017, we decided to transform the initiative into what is today called the Rainbow Refugees Cologne, which has since 2020 an elected majority of board members from the refugee community.”

Rainbow Refugees provides an empowering structure by allowing members to share their experiences, creating an open space where  LGBTQ+ refugees can exchange their individual stories, enabling people to grow from their experiences and help them find the support they need. “We don’t see our members as victims but as survivors,” which is the kind of empowerment that helps them leave the past behind and dare to move into a brighter future.

© Rainbow Refugees Cologne
© Rainbow Refugees Cologne