In recent years, a global discussion has finally emerged about the need to protect LGBTI forced migrants. Protection is particularly critical for refugees and asylum seekers fleeing regimes which tolerate – and in many cases support and perpetuate – violence and discrimination against sexual and gender minorities. Yet this discussion has only just broken through into the mainstream. At the same time, in many parts of the world, LGBTI people are facing alarming attacks on their basic human rights: to assemble, to express themselves, to form communities, to seek justice and to live. This is how LGBTI refugees are created, and why we need to give voice and take action to help them navigate the international protection system, and find safe haven.
Arguments for Action!
… Because LGBTI refugees are discriminated against as migrants and sexual minorities.
In 76 countries, being homosexual or transgender is a crime. In many others – including destinations to which LGBTI migrants flee, it is fundamentally unsafe to be LGBT or I, or even to publicly speak on their behalf. In those countries, the fear of persecution perpetuated by communities and the government – and nourished by social stigma or cultural stereotypes – is an everyday struggle of LGBTI refugees. In countries of first asylum – where migrants seek refugee status or are temporarily resettled – the protection gaps of sexual and gender minority refugees vary widely; they depend on levels of cultural and political tolerance, stereotypical gender expression and sexual norms, recognition of LGBTI rights and equal treatment in the asylum process.
… Because the priority is to shorten and secure LGBTI refugees’ journeys.
What are the main challenges faced by LGBTI refugees on their long and chaotic migratory journey? Here are some key issues recent NGO studies have brought up:
- LGBTI refugees often face discrimination and isolation from friends, family and home communities in countries of transit where they may stay several months or years, or in countries of asylum or resettlement where they have to start a new life.
- In countries where they have fled, LGBTI refugees often lack access to appropriate and respectful processing of their asylum claims. When immigration officers and refugee professionals are not trained to be sensitive to sexual and gender identities, how can there be respectful practices when these officers assess the credibility of LGBTI status? This is particularly true in repressive contexts with conservative gender norms, where LGBTI individuals who don’t conform to local gender expectations are targeted for harassment
- Thus, LGBTI migrants are more likely than others to be denied legal protection and refugee status, to endure abusive detention and disrespectful treatment, and to be at risk of being sent back to danger (refoulement).
- In refugee camps – or even worse in detention centres – LGBTI people often face homophobia that is just as hostile as the violence they fled in their countries of origin. In these perilous conditions, barriers to appropriate medical and social services particularly affect LGBTI refugees who simply can’t rely on the broader refugee community. For non-LGBTI migrants, this is usually a primary and vital resource in a new country.
- For the small number of lucky individuals who are finally granted international protection and get resettled in safe countries, LGBTI survivors still face daily challenges. They rarely succeed in having their same-sex partner join them, and they live in precarious conditions and unfriendly environments. Some migrants are fortunate to be welcomed by LGBTI-friendly groups or communities.
>> For more information about conditions of living of LGBTI refugees, check out the Readings section on bottom of page.
… Because there is still much to be done.
There are huge differences between regions of the world: some seek to better protect sexual and gender refugee minorities; others maintain or worsen punitive laws. Below are some key non-governmental organisations fighting for LGBTI refugee rights, as well as recent concrete steps taken at international and national levels:
Key Non-Governmental Organisations. There are multiple LGBTI-focused and/or refugee-focused actors that engage in important advocacy work, conduct field research, or provide legal advice and assistance to LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers. Among them are:
- Rights in Exile Program
- LGBTI Refugee Project Portal
- Human Rights First
- Immigration Equality
- Kinbrace Community Society
- National Immigrant Justice Center (Heartland Alliance)
- LGBT Freedom and Asylum Network
- Egale Canada
- Reaching Out Winnipeg
- Rainbow Railroad
- Rainbow Refugee Association of Nova Scotia
- Projet Refuge
- ILGA Europe
- COC Netherlands
- UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group
- Micro Rainbow International
- Peter Tatchell Foundation Reach Out Leeds
- Háttér Society
Asia – Pacific
Here are some examples of institutional steps in recent years:
- In 2012, UNHCR – the UN agency that processes individual refugee cases in many countries – clearly included sexual orientation and gender identity as a ground for seeking refugee protection when there is a well-founded fear of persecution.
- The European Union has recognised lesbian, gay and bisexual people as members of a particular social group according to the newly implemented Common European Asylum System. After a series of feature articles, NGO reports and films denouncing invasive methods of assessment in LGBTI asylum cases, the Court of Justice of the EU also reaffirmed the fundamental right of LGBTI refugees to dignity and privacy during the asylum process,
- In early 2012, the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service issued a guidance module to immigration adjudicators on how to process LGBTI refugee and asylum cases.
- Canada started in 2011 a pilot project called “The Rainbow Refugee Assistance Program” which assists LGBTI refugees in resettling to safe environments.
We have to speak for the voiceless.
Let’s take action! Here are some ideas to create your own event or to join the movement:
- Join meetings and events organised by LGBTI-focused and/or refugee organisations,
- Organise a film screening and a panel discussion with testimonies from refugee service providers and LGBTI organisations,
- Disseminate NGO research publications, testimonies of LGBTI refugees, and documentary films on this topic,
- Reach out to your personal and professional journalist and blogger contacts to raise awareness using the hashtag #LGBTIrefugees,
- Promote and share articles and social media posts related to #LGBTIrefugees on Twitter and Facebook,
- In safe countries, join a Refugee Assistance Program,
- In countries where homosexuality or transgendered identities are criminalised or stigmatised, monitor conditions for LGBTI refugees.
Pathways to Protection – Panel Discussion and Film Preview, organised by ORAM (USA)
Roundtable on LGBT Asylees, hosted by HRC (USA)
LGBTI Asylum Seekers: No Pacific Solution panel discussion, hosted by Young Liberty for Law Reform (Australia)
Première of Educational Film on Understanding the Sexual orientation and gender identity of refugees, hosted by ORAM at UNHCR Annual Consultation (Switzerland)
Further Readings, Videos and Resources
- In September 2016, the Women’s Refugee Commission and the UNHCR officially launched the final Global Refugee Youth Consultations (GRYC) report at the UN in Geneva. The report is meant to be a tool for humanitarian practitioners to help mainstream inclusion, empowerment and consultation with refugee youth.
- The International Commission of Jurists -) ICJ has released a guide on refugee status claims based on sexual orientation and gender identity
- Information for Asylum Seekers and Refugees – ORAM – October 2014 – English/French/Arabic/Spanish/Russian –http://www.oraminternational.org/en/programs/371-fleeing-persecution-q-and-a
- Publication package related to asylum and LGBTI issues in the EU – ILGA Europe – September 2014
- Laying the grounds for LGBTI sensitive asylum decision-making in Europe: transposition of the Recast Asylum Procedure Directives and of the Recast Reception Conditions Directive
- Good practices related to LGBTI asylum applicants in Europe http://ilga-europe.org/home/publications/reports_and_other_materials/good_practices_related_to_lgbti_asylum_applicants_in_europe_september_2014
- Refuge and Asylum Factsheet – UN Free and Equal Campaign – June 2014 https://www.unfe.org/system/unfe-54-UN_Fact_Sheets_Refuge_Asylum.pdf
- Sexual orientation and gender identity and the protection of forced migrants – Forced Migration Review – April 2013 – English/Spanish/French/Arabic
- INVISIBLE IN THE CITY: Protection Gaps Facing Sexual Minority Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Urban Ecuador, Ghana, Israel, and Kenya – HAIS – February 2013 – http://www.hias.org/sites/default/files/invisible-in-the-city_0.pdf
- BLIND ALLEYS: The Unseen Struggles of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Urban Refugees in Mexico, Uganda and South Africa – February 2013 – English / Spanish http://www.oraminternational.org/en/publications/264-blind-alleys
124-Page Tool Written in Five Languages Provides Appropriate Terminology for People with Diverse Sexual Orientations & Gender Identities http://oramrefugee.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Glossary-PDF.pdf
- Fleeing Homophobia – Asylum claims related to Sexual orientation and gender identity in Europe – September 2011 http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ebba7852.html
- Protection of LGBTI refugees in Lebanon -Heartland Alliance for Human Rights, Arab Foundation for Freedom & Equality – August 2011 http://media.wix.com/ugd/3d34ab_cab61d768e167a6d778a9810efa7e1ba.pdf
Films and documentaries
- In Our Voices: The Journeys of LGBT Refugees and Asylees – Heartland’s Rainbow Welcome https://vimeo.com/70976866
- “No Place for Me: The Struggles of Sexual and Gender Minority Refugees” – South Africa, Uganda, DR Congo, Sierra Leone – ORAM.
- LGBT Asylum in the US: Three stories – Immigration Equality – Asylum Program – Russia, Nicaragua, Uganda – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p500h-1ihCc
- “Une dernière chance” : le parcours de cinq demandeurs d’asile LGBTI originaires de Jamaïque, Colombie, Liban, Egypte et Nicaragua – ONF https://www.onf.ca/film/une_derniere_chance/trailer/une_derniere_chance_bande_annonce
- LGBT Asylees: Four stories – BuzzFeed – Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Ukraine, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfsbFIZ4XB0
- “Nowhere to Run: the challenges lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) refugees face around the world” Four Animation shorts – Jamaica, Iran, Iraq and Zimbabwe – ORAM – English/French/Spanish http://www.oraminternational.org/en/videos/275-nowhere-to-run
- “LGBT Refugees deserve our protection” posters
- “You are safe here” poster in 18 languages (Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, English, Farsi, French, German, Hindi, Norwegian, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Tagalog, Turkish, Urdu) http://www.oraminternational.org/images/stories/IDAHOT2014/oram_you-are-safe-here-poster_hd.pdf
HD version (PDF- 1.8 Mb) http://www.oraminternational.org/images/stories/IDAHOT2014/oram_you-are-safe-here-poster_hd.pdf
Author: Josselin Moreau – Date: 8 March 2015