As increasing numbers of refugees flee persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, the Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration (ORAM) and Indiana University sociologists have released the first ever survey of attitudes of the international refugee assistance non-governmental organizations (NGOs) serving asylum seekers and refugees worldwide.
NGOs provide crucial support and protection for refugees, including essential medical, legal, housing and educational services. The survey found that NGOs often fail to adequately protect LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers. Many ignore the refugees’ plights or are ill-equipped to work with LGBTI people. Those gaps were identified across the globe but were starkest in countries where protection is most needed.
For example, although nearly all NGOs said LGBTI refugees deserve protection, a significant minority stated that they were not willing to provide that assistance. “Let’s be honest, the refugees, the migrants…who are homosexual or lesbian, they’re frowned upon,” said one survey respondent.
“Refugees fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity face further harm from the culture of silence in the international refugee protection system. 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,” said Neil Grungras, Executive Director of ORAM. “Among the most pervasively and violently persecuted in the world, LGBTI individuals are virtually invisible in the international refugee protection realm.” Grungras said.
In follow-up interviews, many respondents said that their NGO lacks the tools and knowledge for ensuring their services are open and welcoming, but wished they could better serve LGBTI populations.
ORAM has issued a call to action with several key recommendations to address the protection gaps for LGBTI refugees:
- NGOs should affirmatively create non-threatening and welcoming environments for LGBTI individuals, encouraging staff to openly engage with issues of sexual orientation and gender identity while avoiding stereotypes and assumptions;
- NGOs should build their knowledge and capacity on core LGBTI issues through ongoing, context-specific sensitization trainings; and
- NGOs should adopt codes of conduct preventing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The report is based on a survey of hundreds of NGOs from tens of countries. An online survey was distributed in seven languages between May and August 2011, with follow-up interviews conducted later.
The Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration (ORAM) is the only organization focused exclusively on helping vulnerable LGBTI refugees worldwide find safety and rebuild their lives in welcoming communities. ORAM increases global support for refugees and asylum seekers through advocacy and education, as well as technical assistance to people and groups interested in working with refugees, asylees, and asylum seekers. Learn more at www.oraminternational.org.