New Internationalist

LGBT refugees lack NGO protection

A survey of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has found widespread failures to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) refugees.

Despite increasing numbers of refugees fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, a report by the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration (ORAM) argues that many refugee assistance organizations are ill-equipped to work with LGBTI people and ignore their real needs.

‘LGBTI individuals are virtually invisible in the international refugee protection realm despite being among the most pervasively and violently persecuted in the world,’ says Neil Grungras, executive director of ORAM. ‘Morever, they are placed in housing where they are exposed to violence, or are compelled to hide the true reason they were persecuted, which puts their legal status in jeopardy.’

The report is based on an online survey distributed in seven languages to 384 NGOs from 100 countries. In follow-up interviews, many respondents said that their NGO lacked the tools and knowledge for ensuring their services are open and welcoming, but wished they could better serve LGBTI populations. These gaps were identified across the globe but were starkest in countries where protection is most needed.

Worryingly, a sizable minority of NGOs that span several regions of the world were found to hold negative views on the morality of same-sex relationships and the expression of transgender identity.

‘There appears to be a vicious cycle,’ said Indiana University sociologist Oren Pizmony-Levy. ‘Many NGOs do not welcome LGBTI refugees and the asylum seekers don't approach them. NGOs think that persecution based on sexual orientation or gender identity is not serious and NGOs tend to overlook the problem.’

In recognition of the UN World Refugee Day on June 20, ORAM is issuing a call to action to address the protection gaps for LGBTI refugees. They recommend that staff be better trained and codes of conduct be adopted by organizations working with refugees that prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

‘No one chooses to be LGBTI and no one wants to become a refugee and refugees must feel safe in the hands of those tasked with protecting them,’ says Neil Gungrass. ‘Only then can we help those who are forced to flee to find safety, regain hope and rebuild their lives.’

The full ORAM report can be accessed here.

New Internationalist has published a No-Nonsense Guide to Sexual Diversity.

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