Tue, 10/07/2018 - 12:27
LGBTI. Asylum requests on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity rise by the day. The problem requires personalised solutions and for our society to become more aware of the situation.
Pride Barcelona included a demonstration on 30 June in favour of LGBTI refugees, a rather unknown phenomenon which needs urgent attention given the migrants reaching our shores every day.
One of the main problems regarding this phenomenon is that there are very few studies and figures available on it at a local, national or global level. According to the global survey conducted in 2012 by the Organization for Refugee, Asylum & Migration (ORAM), it is estimated that 175,000 LGBTI people live in dangerous or violent conditions around the world. But how many migrate in search of a better life? And how many seek asylum due to persecution on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity? The ORAM calculates that out of these 175,000 people only 17,5000 will manage to get away, and of these, only 7,500 will seek legal protection. Out of these 7,500, just 5,000 will be able to request LGBTI refugee status and only 2,500 will be granted it.
Of the 175,000 LGBTI people estimated to be living dangerous or violent conditions in the world, just 2,500 will gain LGBTI refugee status.
The ORAM estimates that the international protection system for refugees helps millions of people every year and that a significant part of that help is provided by NGOs. In 2012 the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported there were over five hundred NGOs working in this sphere around the world, offering legal advice; help with documents; safety and protection; healthcare services; access to food, water and shelter; housing; education and training, and family planning. But the number of people seeking and receiving help and protection is not known. Only a few countries such as the UK have studied the figures, in its case 6% of asylum requests cite sexual orientation as a motive. Out of the hundred nations with asylum systems in place, only a handful currently record LGBTI cases. The figures in these countries tally with the figures for the UK, showing that between 4% and 6% of asylum seekers base their requests on sexual orientation or gender identity. In Spain, the Ministry of the Interior doesn’t detail asylum requests by motive, but various organisations devoted to the phenomenon in Spain insist that the figures have mushroomed.
LGBTI persecution: Honduras
On 27 June Acathi and the Asil.Cat network organised the second meeting on LGBTI refugees as part of Pride 2018, where Carol Murcia gave a first-hand account of the persecution she suffered: “There’s no law to protect us in Honduras. It’s based on the code of ‘non-discrimination’, which the government doesn’t apply to the LGBTI collective. In addition, we’ve got the problem of the maras (street gangs competing for control of the area, often via illegal activity and violence), really homophobic, capable of killing you for being a poof. When you denounce it the authorities make you feel guilty, thinking you went looking for it. Even if you turn up beaten up and covered in blood. They even told me that the government doesn’t pay them to attend to clowns and poofs. And trans people have it even tougher, because when you seek medical attention for hormone treatment it doesn’t exist. I requested asylum from my country, because I was an activist involved with an NGO. There’s no work for trans people there. What did I do then? Work as a prostitute, which means you’re even more exposed to bullets and stonings. If the news covered the deaths of trans people in Honduras it would last morning, noon and night. A fortnight ago they killed a colleague of mine by pulling out all her fingernails and dismembering her”.
“In Spain you know your life’s not in danger, but there are plenty of things which could be improved: the delay in appointments, support and procedures, the fact you have to share a home with other refugees…Imagine somebody who’s spent their whole life in a conservative environment seeing a trans person”
Carol Murcia also spoke about the problems she has had to tackle in her host country: “Many gays and trans people leave our country because the authorities don’t give us the protection we need. When we get here [Spain], you know your life’s not in danger, but there are plenty of things which could be improved: the delay in appointments, support and procedures, the fact you have to share a home with other refugees…Imagine somebody who’s spent their whole life in a conservative environment seeing a trans person. There’s also the relationship with social workers, which gives you the impression you’re the first trans person they’ve ever met”. Carol reached Madrid and a civil servant later recommended she moved to Barcelona. She is part of Acathi here and her image was used for this year’s Pride poster.
LGBTI reception: tools and shortcomings
Spain is regarded as a country which is open to receiving LGBTI people. In 2009 a law came into force introducing persecution on the grounds of sexual identity or orientation as a reason for requesting international protection. It is one of the pioneer countries in this respect, but also has serious shortcomings.
Juan Carlos Arnáiz, a UNHCR Spain protection official participating in the debate on LGBTI refugees on 27 June, warned: “The system has collapsed in every sense in Spain. Every time people reach the coast there are LGBTI refugees who need to be identified, which doesn’t happen, and who need information to be able to access the asylum process, which faces major challenges in terms of access procedures. Many LGBTI men and women arriving don’t know they’re refugees and that they can access the international protection system”.
Other organisations specialising in this area describe a lack of legal, care and economic tools; examples of LGBTIphobia in reception centres, and the existence of stereotypes and prejudice among civil servants assessing their cases. These challenges also appear in other European countries.
On this last point, Arnaíz stressed that: “What particularly hurts us is the transphobia in our society, which is implacably transferred to the asylum system. There’s an incredible lack of awareness about the trans reality, and because of that we see a large number of trans cases get left out of the reception system”.
Beyond bureaucratic care: socialisation
The round table session on 27 June also outlined a basic need in the whole LGBTI asylum process: the need for socialisation opportunities for these people, who often haven’t got any family or friends, who have no support and who need to establish themselves in urban environments to find others like them.
Leading local entities
According to the global survey in 2012 by ORAM, one of the few international organisations dedicated to LGBTI refugees, very few NGOs around the world have solid experience in dealing with LGBTI people seeking refuge.
Because of this it’s important to highlight the work done by Acathi, an association which aims to raise awareness about the reality of LGBTIQ+ migrants. At a local level the association works for people to become empowered, to know their rights and to avoid self-victimisation. In this respect, the work includes providing support in the social and labour inclusion process for people who have requested refuge as they have been victims of violence, persecuted, threatened or discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Acathi runs various programmes, most notably a flat for LGBTI refugees, opened in 2014 and offering seven places. Secondly, the association helps extend the reception and asylum support process for LGBTI refugees as part of Barcelona City Council’s Nausica programme, which specifically includes care for LGBTI refugees. This is because their circumstances require specific and personalised support. The programme puts Barcelona on a par with other cities such as Berlin in terms of reception for LGBTI refugees. Thirdly, Acathi also carries out globally unique work with LGBTI people in prison, detecting possible asylum seekers.
“My problems are labour insertion and housing. While I’m jobless, I continue to depend on support and I’m stuck in a rut. When I get work I’ll be able to contribute to the country and free up a reception place for somebody else”
At a national level in Spain, it is also worth noting the work of La Merced Migraciones, which started a programme centring on LGBTI refugees after detecting numerous cases of people requesting asylum on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, where the intention was to refer people to LGBTI entities which had no knowledge of asylum processes. Under the guidance of Acathi, the NGO has set up a reception group for LGBTI migrants, the aim being to create a network to empower the collective.
The activist Juan Carlos Arnáiz highlighted two important points in improving reception for this collective: “Firstly, the process has to include the voice of refugees, because if not, we won’t know their real needs. Secondly the civil society needs to be involved, to be included in the asylum system, which mustn’t be seen as an exclusively administrative system”. For her part, Carol Murcia noted: “There must be an emphasis on the complete autonomy of LGBTI refugees. My problems are labour insertion and housing. While I’m jobless, I continue to depend on support and I’m stuck in a rut. When I get work I’ll be able to contribute to the country and free up a reception place for somebody else”.