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Discrimination persists against LGBTQ+ refugees – both at home and in host countries

Article by Sertan Sanderson, Published INFO IMMIGRANTS, June 06, 2024,

The ARTICLE CAN be accessed HERE at original publication. The reason AHRC republishes such articles is to maintain a record for country conditions reporting, when sites may archive or be inaccessible in certain countries or via certain platforms.

As countries around the globe mark Pride month, the plight of members of the LGBTQ+ community around the world continues to worsen. Gay, lesbian and trans people are often forced to flee their homes, only to face continued victimization in host countries.

In the course of June and the following months, colorful Pride parades will light up the streets of global cities like Berlin, New York and London.

But while the LGBTQ+ community gets to celebrate itself and its accomplishments in most of the Western world, a growing crisis is forcing many to flee their homes in large parts of the Global South. 

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association ILGA World, which is comprised of more than 1,900 organizations from over 160 countries and territories, says in a new report that "(d)espite the increasing number of laws and regulations aimed at bolstering legal protections in various regions worldwide, relentless opposition has been a recurring theme present in all legal debates concerning issues of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics in every UN Member State."

The 206-page document, titled "Laws On Us" highlights critical developments affecting members of the LGBTQ+ community worldwide in 11 legal categories, including consensual same-sex sexual acts, hate crime, same-sex marriage and freedom of expression.

Few options to escape persecution

Countries in Africa and the Middle East are of particular concern in the publication, as laws and protections favoring gays, lesbians and trans people are increasingly being rolled back in several nations.

"In general, 2024 is suffering the impact of the surge in anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment in Africa, flowing from over a decade of enhanced anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and legislation, leading to an uptick in the myriad of harms to LGBTQ+ Africans, including discrimination, persecution and violence from state and non-state actors alike," says Melanie Nathan, Executive Director of African Human Rights Coalition (AHRC).

Nathan is a lawyer specializing in migration of LGBTQ+ individuals; in that capacity, she informs courts around the world, especially the United States, on living conditions for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers from African countries.

"LGBTQ+ People are forcibly displaced based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, with few pathways and few durable solutions. It is a huge issue," she told InfoMigrants.

Migration: still a luxury for many

On the African continent, several countries have introduced harsh penalties for members of the LGBTQ+ community or those who provide them any form of support. 

"Resistance and detraction are pervasive across all regions and have materialized in regressive trends concerning the criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual acts, and especially freedom of expression and freedom of association," says the ILGA World report.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR stresses meanwhile that "(e)veryone has the right to seek asylum from persecution. A person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristic does not change this."

In Africa, Uganda, Ghana and Senegal have continuously made news in the past year for taking increasingly draconian steps against gays, lesbians and trans persons. However, instances of hate crimes – both state-sponsored and social – are also amassing in Burundi, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Kenya, forcing more and more people to seek better lives elsewhere.  However, many more are left behind.

"While flight is an important indicator, it does not give the complete picture when it comes to the worst countries for persecution and violence against LGBTQ+ people. Pathways to protection are few, and mostly dangerous, and resources are limited," Nathan stressed.  "Most people needing to flee their countries, cannot."

Finding safety in Italy

There are some success stories that highlight the importance of having safe pathways for people fleeing persecution due to their sexual orientation or gender identity:

Ella Anthony and her partner Doris Ezuruike Chinonso fled Nigeria in 2014, where their families threatened to turn them into the police for their sexual orientation.

Both had suffered abuse; Anthony had even been pushed into an abusive forced marriage, which later led to a suicide attempt.

The pair traveled to Libya and then to Italy, where they lodged asylum requests, which eventually were granted.

34-year-old Chinonso told the Associated Press (AP) that in Nigeria, "if you're lucky you end up prison. If you're not lucky, they kill you."

"Here you can live as you like," she said, adding however that things could still be better. "Certainly life here in Italy isn't 100% what we want. But let's say it's 80% better than in my country."

Addressing LGBTQ+ refugee needs

Nathan agrees that the reception of LGBTQ+ refugees can be improved on.

"There is no agency in Canada, Europe, USA that is missioned to specifically address the needs and well-being of LGBTQ+ refugees," she said. Melanie Nathan assists LGBTQ+ refugees seeking protection abroad.

She highlights the example of a Congolese lesbian refugee who was resettled from a Kenyan refugee camp to the US. "She was sent to a deeply religious agency to work with. She was sent to an area in the US where most neighbors are Muslim and anti-Gay. Her apartment is a tiny studio rental for $500 per month. After her rent is paid on the subsidy she receives she has $100 left over for food, utilities and all her needs. The area is awful for a foreign single woman, least of all a traumatized lesbian, who still is in need of trauma informed-counselling that could take years."

Organizations like Nathan's AHRC try to help in such cases, especially trying to address financial concerns, but "because of lack of funding, there are many hurdles," she told InfoMigrants.

"She is already trapped in a cycle of poverty. She has lost her home and her people. She is lonely and confused with little interest shown by the agency to help lift her beyond this trap."

| Photo: Melanie Nathan/private

More and more LGBTQ+ refugees

Despite such significant shortcomings, non-governmental organizations say that the numbers of LGBTQ+ asylum seekers – sometimes called "rainbow refugees" – like Anthony and Chinonso meanwhile are rising.

"The ultimate result is people trying to flee these countries to find safe haven elsewhere," says Kimahli Powell, chief executive of Rainbow Railroad, a group which provides financial, legal and logistical support to LGBTQ+ people needing asylum assistance.

Powell said his organization had received about 15,000 requests for assistance in the last year, marking a 30 percent rise on the previous year.

In the European context, there are no official statistics on LGBTQ+ refugees due to privacy laws. However, various NGOs estimate that in some EU countries, like Finland, there are several hundred homosexual or transexual asylum seekers. Protests have been held against Uganda's new anti-gay laws, like this one pictured in London |

However, even succeeding in reaching a foreign country and lodging an asylum requests still is not a guarantor of safety: for example, ignorance on the part of asylum interviewers about anti-Gay laws in countries of origin can still lead to unsuccessful claims, according to the EU Agency for Asylum.

Antonella Ugirashebuja, an activist with the Arcigay association, told AP that this lack of special protections and provisions in LGBTQ+ asylum cases often impacts female migrants more negatively than male, in particular lesbians: "Lesbians leaving Africa often, or more frequently, end up in prostitution and sexual exploitation networks because they lack (economic) support from their families," she said.

No guarantee for safety

Even when granted protection abroad, homosexual and transexual individuals continue to face challenges:

"We're talking about people who are unfortunately victims of a double stigma: being a migrant, and being members of the LGBTQ+ community," Italian human rights lawyer Marina De Stradis told AP, also highlighting the risk of having their asylum request rejected.

Meanwhile, even in the most liberal countries, there’s often no complete escape from victimization: Last year, members of the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) terror group planned to carry out an attack on a Pride parade in Vienna, resulting in several arrests.

With Iraq – a former stronghold of IS – being one of the Middle Eastern states that has introduced the most comprehensive anti-LGBTQ+ laws of recent years, people trying to escape violence and persecution from that part of the world continue to relive the trauma they escaped when such events hit the news.

LGBTQI+ asylum seekers in the EU have in the past been deported despite facing grave dangers in their home country.

Hope for a better tomorrow

Human rights lawyer Nathan believes that everyone can contribute to trying to create a more welcoming environment for homosexual and transexual refugees: "Sign up as a volunteer with organizations that serve LGBTQ+ people in forced displacement. Make sure you vote for legislators and policy makers who do not legislate against the interests of LGBTQ+ people. Donate money to organizations like ours," she recommends.

ILGA World meanwhile has a message of hope in the foreword to the "Laws On US" publication: The movement's co-secretaries general, Luz Elena Aranda and Ymania Brown, say that despite all the adversity, "the resilience and collective spirit" of the LGBTQ+ community served as a reminder that "we can create a world where equality and justice flourish for all."


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