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Last modified: Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Survey of refugee assistance organizations finds widespread failures to protect LGBTI refugees

Call to action for June 20 World Refugee Day includes recommendations to address protection gaps

June 20, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO -- As increasing numbers of refugees flee persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, the Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration and Indiana University sociologists have released the first survey of attitudes of non-governmental organizations serving asylum-seekers and refugees worldwide.

NGOs provide crucial support and protection for refugees, including essential medical, legal, housing and educational services. The survey, co-authored by researchers in the Department of Sociology in IU Bloomington's College of Arts and Sciences, found that NGOs often fail to adequately protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex 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, nearly all NGOs reported that LGBTI refugees deserve protection, yet a significant minority stated 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.

Neil Grungras, executive director of ORAM, said 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," he said. "Among the most pervasively and violently persecuted in the world, LGBTI individuals are virtually invisible in the international refugee protection realm."

IU sociologist Oren Pizmony-Levy described a "vicious cycle."

Oren Pizmony-Levy

Oren Pizmony-Levy

"Many NGOs do not welcome LGBTI refuges, and the asylum seekers don't approach them," he said. "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 their NGOs lack the tools and knowledge for ensuring their services are open and welcoming, but the NGOs wished they could better serve LGBTI populations.

In recognition of World Refugee Day on June 20, ORAM issued a call to action with several key recommendations to address the protection gaps for LGBTI refugees:

  • NGOs should affirmatively create nonthreatening 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.
  • NGOs should adopt codes of conduct preventing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

"No one chooses to be LGBTI, and no one wants to become a refugee," Grungras said. "ORAM calls on those working with refugees to recognize (the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees') 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."

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, "Opening Doors: A Global Survey of NGO Attitudes Towards LGBTI Refugees and Asylum Seekers," elaborates on the IU technical report.

The IU technical report, "Global Survey of Non-Governmental Organizations Serving Refugees and Asylum Seekers," is co-authored by Patricia A. McManus, associate professor in the Department of Sociology.

About ORAM

The Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration 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.