As the world celebrates International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO), lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people who have fled their home countries due to persecution continue to face high risks of violence in the countries where they have sought refuge.
Last year, to commemorate IDAHO, we released a report documenting violence against LGBTI refugees in Uganda and Kenya and their difficulties accessing assistance. In some countries, LGBTI refugees face threats of arrest, detention, and sometimes violence by the police due to laws criminalizing same-sex relations. LGBTI refugees may also face violence from citizens or fellow members of the refugee community.
In December 2011, then Secretary of State Clinton gave a landmark address in Geneva calling on states to protect LGBT persons from violence, discrimination, and other rights violations and affirming U.S. commitment to protecting LGBT people. On the same day, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum directing government agencies to protect the human rights of LGBT persons, including by taking steps to ensure that LGBT refugees have equal access to assistance and protection and that highly vulnerable refugees with urgent protection needs have access to expedited resettlement.
The State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration has played a leadership role in efforts to strengthen protection and assistance to LGBTI refugees. Among other initiatives, it has supported the UN Refugee Agency to revise its policies to include guidance for staff on assisting LGBTI refugees, provided support to some NGOs with programs assisting LGBTI refugees, supported research on the protection challenges facing LGBTI refugees in urban areas, and taken steps to address significant sources of delay in the resettlement process and help ensure that expedited cases move more rapidly.
Despite these efforts, LGBTI refugees continue to face high risks of violence and lack access to sufficient mechanisms to protect their safety. For example:
- In Uganda, LGBTI refugees reported high levels of physical violence, including rape, assaults, and attempts to burn them alive, as well as being threatened by police with arrest and detention. Some reported being tortured and gang raped in prison.
- In Kenya, a Somali boy was doused in petrol and nearly set alight by a group of Somali youths. Other LGBTI refugees reported beatings, threats of abductions and one Congolese refugee narrowly escaped death when his Kenyan partner was stoned to death by a mob that spotted the two having sex in a parking lot; and
- LGBTI refugees reported violence at the hands of other refugees in Ghana and South Africa, from criminal or paramilitary groups in Ecuador; and from criminal gangs and other migrants in Mexico.
The State Department can help to mitigate these risks of violence through the following steps:
- Provide support for safe shelter initiatives that specifically assist or are accessible to LGBTI refugees, including those for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence
- Enable LGBTI refugees facing imminent risks of violence to access support for emergency protection through the Dignity for All program
- Continue efforts to make expedited resettlement more timely in emergency cases and work with key partners to identify LGBTI refugees in need of this protection
- Support the UN Refugee Agency to train staff at Emergency Transit Facilities to address potential safety concerns of LGBTI refugees and other vulnerable individuals
- Raise concerns with host governments about gaps in police protection of LGBTI people, including refugees.