Around the world, there has been an increase in the number of LGBT refugees and asylum seekers in recent years due to persecution or discrimination. In some countries, individuals with diverse sexual orientations or gender identities are subject to persecution, violence, and legal, political, and cultural discrimination. Additionally, LGBT refugees may also flee their countries of origin for the same reasons as other refugees, including violence or political instability. While many choose to flee their homes and establish residence elsewhere in order to escape their conditions, LGBT refugees and asylum seekers face continued harms and vulnerabilities during their displacement.
Nearly 80 countries worldwide criminalise same-sex relations. In the parts of the world where same-sex acts are criminalised, there is an increased incidence of “homophobic hate crimes, police abuse, torture, and family and community violence,” according to the UN. In 10 countries, homosexuality is punishable by death. Among these countries are Afghanistan, Iran, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Mauritania, and the United Arab Emirates. Moreover, in many countries where homosexuality is not expressly prohibited, other restrictions limiting LGBT rights may exist, and individuals may be killed by militias or governments citing religious justification. While specific laws limiting the rights of the LGBT community may not exist in some countries, governments often fail to adequately protect fundamental human rights in the face of abuses and violations.
LGBT refugees and asylum seekers face numerous challenges throughout their displacement. According to the UNHCR, these challenges include prejudice, unjust detention, gender and sexual-based violence, difficulty accessing humanitarian services, and barriers to articulating protection needs during the asylum process. Furthermore, LGBT refugees may face challenges accessing necessary healthcare in their host country, including treatment for HIV/AIDS, mental health care, and hormone therapy for transgender persons.
Given the complex challenges faced by millions of LGBT refugees, there are solutions that the humanitarian community can implement to address the major areas of concern. By improving the process of identifying and reaching out to LGBT refugees, the UNHCR and other human rights organizations can more effectively respond to the needs of displaced LGBT persons. It is the obligation of the international community to enact laws protecting the rights of LGBT individuals, contribute to the improvement and monitoring of the displacement conditions of LGBT refugees, and providing assistance to these refugees once settled in their countries of asylum.
The discussion of the refugee crisis often fails to acknowledge the unique challenges of LGBT refugees. With a more inclusive dialogue, we allow for more comprehensive solutions.
There are many human rights organizations that are providing assistance to LGBT refugees at all stages of displacement. Below are resources providing more information about the status of LGBT rights and organizations seeking to help LGBT refugees and asylum seekers:
- State of gay rights around the world https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/world/gay-rights/
- UNHCR work in LGBTI refugee protection http://www.unhcr.org/afr/news/latest/2015/12/567bb2869/unhcr-leads-in-lgbti-refugee-asylum-seeker-protection.html
- Rainbow Welcome Initiative http://www.rainbowwelcome.org/