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 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 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) refugees and asylum seekers. Many NGOs 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.”
“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 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.
In recognition of World Refugee Day on June 20, ORAM is issuing 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.
“No once chooses to be LGBTI and no one wants to become a refugee. ORAM calls on those working with refugees to recognize UNHCR’s World Refugee Day by taking steps to ensure LGBTI refugees feel safe in the hands of those tasked with protecting them. Only then can we help those who are forced to flee find safety, regain hope and rebuild their lives,” said Neil Grungras.
The report is based on a survey including 384 NGOs from 100 countries. An online survey was distributed in seven languages between May and August 2011, with follow-up interviews conducted later.
The full ORAM report can be accessed at
The Indiana University technical report can be accessed at
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.