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UN rights experts urge more protection for LGBTI refugees

GENEVA (1 July 2019) States and other actors involved in refugee protection must recognise the unique vulnerability and specific needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex and gender diverse (LGBTI) asylum-seekers and refugees, the UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, and UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Volker Türk, said today.

“For many LGBTI people, the trauma and persecution start well before their actual flight to safety,” the Independent Expert said. “Persecution often manifests through laws that criminalise sexual orientation, gender identity or expression or that are discriminatory.”

He said LGBTI people are also exposed to disproportionate levels of arbitrary detention, police abuse, violence and extrajudicial killings by both State and non-State actors, as well as abuse in medical settings, including forced sterilisations and so-called ‘conversion therapies’. Their right to freedom of expression, assembly and association is often also unduly restricted.

“Unfortunately the journey to safety can prove particularly treacherous for many LGBTI refugees who continue to face prejudice and violence in countries of transit and host countries,” Türk said.

The first element of protection is access to asylum, the UN experts said. It is crucial that States ensure that a well-founded fear of persecution on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and/or sex characteristics is accepted as a ground for the recognition of refugee status. Presently, some 37 States grant asylum to individuals on such grounds, but the majority of States adjudicating asylum unjustifiably fail to do so.

States should take measures to address the violations faced by LGBTI refugees and asylum-seekers, including through incorporating LGBTI-sensitive measures into their asylum procedures.

“Officials involved in the process of determination of refugee status and in managing reception conditions should receive sensitive and culturally appropriate training on sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics,” said Türk. This should include individual assessments sensitive of the protection needs of LGBTI persons and using interviewing and assessing techniques that respect the dignity and privacy of persons seeking asylum and that are determined in an objective and sensitive manner, not on the basis of stereotyping or cultural bias.

Additional efforts are also needed to ensure that those providing protection and assistance have the knowledge and training to prevent and respond to such incidences, and avoid exclusion.

An assessment of the protection needs of each individual, while in transit, and upon arrival in destination countries, as well as access to adequate housing in safe settings with adequate sanitation facilities are particularly crucial for LGBTI people, as they are exposed to risk of harassment, abuse and violence in reception centres, collective shelters and camp settings.

“Access to LGBTI-sensitive health care and reproductive rights services becomes particularly challenging for LGBTI refugees, in all stages and at all times during their journey,” said Madrigal-Borloz. For instance, interruption of hormone and other treatment associated with gender transition may be particularly harmful or lead to hazardous self-medication.

Türk said that, even in locations where LGBTI refugees are more accepted and services are accessible, many choose to conceal their sexual orientation and gender identity for fear they might be targeted or marginalised, particularly in densely populated areas. It is therefore crucial to create safe spaces and services that are designed in consultation with LGBTI people and their organisations.

“It is time to recognise the specific needs of LGBTI asylum-seekers and refugees and to give them the protection they need,” concluded the two experts.

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