6-13-2012By Duncan Breen
Refugee Protection Program
“Many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons, including adolescents, continue to be compelled to flee their home countries and seek protection abroad due to the discrimination and abuse they experience. In many countries around the world, these individuals and the specific protection problems they face in flight and in exile remain largely invisible. It is clear, however, that the nature of the discrimination they encounter can be particularly virulent, their isolation from family and community profound, and the harm inflicted on them severe.”
–U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO), 05-17-2012
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) refugees in Uganda, Kenya and many other parts of the world are among the most vulnerable of refugees. They are often targeted for violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, including by other refugees. LGBTI refugees may be unable to rely on support from the social networks that are critical for the survival of many refugees because they are frequently marginalized by family members or others within the refugee community.
Human Rights First conducted research in Uganda and Kenya, and identified some of the specific challenges LGBTI refugees face as well as strategies for ensuring they have equal access to protection and services. Our research found LGBTI refugees often struggle to access even the limited assistance that is available to other refugees, including access to essential medical assistance. Reasons include:
- Staff at organizations or institutions that are supposed to provide assistance sometimes discriminate against or humiliate LGBTI refugees;
- Some LGBTI refugees fear risks of violence and harassment if identified by other refugees at UNHCR or NGO offices, including through exposure of their confidential information.
LGBTI refugees in Uganda and Kenya often face high risks of violence, including from other members of the refugee community. Both Uganda and Kenya criminalize same-sex conduct, which makes it extremely difficult for LGBTI refugees to seek police protection for fear of being arrested. Police in both countries also harass and extort individuals – sometimes due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. The risks of violence against LGBTI refugees are so high that even non-LGBTI persons who advocate on behalf of LGBTI refugees in Uganda and sometimes Kenya may face security concerns. For example, in 2010, two women in Uganda were abducted, raped repeatedly, and left for dead because they had been assisting a group of LGBTI refugees. Examples of violence specifically targeting LGBTI refugees include:
- A Burundian transgender female refugee was repeatedly arrested by police in Uganda due to her sexual orientation and gender identity and then raped repeatedly in prison.
- A gay Somali teenager was abducted from Nairobi by a member of his family for a possible honor killing, but was eventually able to escape. The same teenager had previously been doused in petrol and nearly set alight by a crowd of Somali youths in Eastleigh, Nairobi, but was saved by the intervention of an older Somali woman.
- In November 2011, a gay male refugee was locked in his home in Uganda and a group of refugees tried to burn him alive.
- NGOs in Uganda reported five cases of ‘corrective rape’ of lesbian or transgender men refugees between June and November 2011.
- Two Ethiopians in Nairobi were repeatedly beaten and robbed with impunity, and lost their jobs as the result of other Ethiopian refugees suspecting them to be gay.
Human Rights First Recommendations
By taking the steps outlined below, and further detailed in the report The Road to Safety, UNHCR and others would help provide LGBTI refugees with equal access to protection and assistance. These steps would also improve protection for other vulnerable at-risk refugees, including victims of sexual and gender-based violence.
- Protect LGBTI refugees from violence and assist victims of violence. Host states should protect everyone, including LGBTI refugees, from bias-motivated violence and prosecute perpetrators. UNHCR and NGOs should help LGBTI refugees report violent incidents to the police; conduct outreach to refugee communities to tackle violence committed by refugees against other refugees; work with domestic LGBTI organizations to provide access to support, including emergency hotlines, legal services, and security training; raise specific cases of bias-motivated violence with the government and request information on progress in investigating and prosecuting these cases; and develop an effective referral system to assist LGBTI victims of bias-motivated and sexual and gender-based violence.
- Ensure at-risk LGBTI refugees have access to safe shelter. UNHCR and NGOs should make safe shelter options available for LGBTI refugees at risk, including those in need of emergency shelter. Human Rights First recommends a “scattered-site housing” approach, with accommodation options for LGBTI refugees cases separate from where other refugee populations live.
- Improve access to timely resettlement and expedited resettlement. UNHCR, the United States, and other resettlement states should strengthen mechanisms for identifying vulnerable LGBTI (and other) refugees, improve the pace of their resettlement where necessary, help make Emergency Transit Facilities safe for LGBTI refugees, and significantly increase the number of expedited resettlement slots available globally. The United States should also develop a formal and transparent expedited resettlement system that should provide emergency resettlement for applicants in extreme danger in as close to 14 days as possible from referral to departure and urgent resettlement for refugee applicants facing urgent risks within eight weeks.
- Improve general access to protection for LGBTI refugees.The reports details steps that UNHCR and NGOs should take to improve access to other protection and assistance mechanisms including:
- Develop joint protection strategies, including components on protection against violence, access to support for survivors of violence, access to safe shelter, access to durable solutions, and measures to improve access to existing services;
- Continue to revise and roll out key protection tools such as the Age, Gender and Diversity Mainstreaming (AGDM) strategy and the Heightened Risk Identification Tool;
- Further develop and provide ongoing training to address negative UNHCR and NGO staff attitudes towards LGBTI refugees;
- Reform registration procedures and develop targeted outreach strategies to ensure that LGBTI refugees are identified and their protection needs are addressed without delay; and
- Train UNHCR staff, government officials, and adjudicators on sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds for asylum.