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Friday, 1 October 2010

UN discussing LGBT refugees today, more protection is needed

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Source: Human Rights First

Washington, DC – As a group of representatives from governments, civil society and academia meet in Geneva today to participate in a Roundtable discussion on how to better protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) refugees, Human Rights First urges the UN refugee agency – UNHCR – to continue to undertake concrete steps to ensure LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers are protected on the basis of equality and dignity.

"Every day, refugees from all corners of the world are forced to flee their homes on account of their sexual orientation or gender identity," said Human Rights First's Jesse Bernstein, author of Persistent Needs and Gaps: the Protection of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Refugees, a report that will be presented today at UNHCR's Roundtable in Geneva. "By definition, all refugees are vulnerable," said Bernstein. "Yet LGBTI refugees often face particular challenges in accessing protection and assistance resulting in needs which frequently go unaddressed."

LGBTI individuals who flee their homes often have no choice but to flee to neighboring countries where homophobia is as pervasive as the environments they are seeking to escape. More than 70 countries have laws that criminalize same-sex conduct, and many of these countries host refugees. LGBTI refugees often endure discrimination as they navigate asylum systems, including many that require them to register with national authorities who may harbor homophobic attitudes or consider consensual same-sex conduct a crime. As a result, LGBTI refugees fear registering with authorities, a reality that limits their ability to access assistance programs or be identified for the purposes of protection and potential resettlement. In a number of contexts, such as Iraq and east Africa, LGBTI refugees also experience sexual violence as a cause of flight or while in countries of first asylum.

Human Rights First welcomes UNHCR's Roundtable as an important step in developing the response of the international community to better protect LGBTI refugees. It marks the first time the protection concerns of LGBTI refugees will be formally discussed under UN auspices with experts from governments, civil society and academia. At the same time, however, additional action is necessary to ensure the protection of LGBTI refugees in real terms. For example, as Human Rights First's analysis details, the primary tools used by UNHCR to identify at risk individuals and the specific needs within refugee populations contain only limited reference to sexual orientation or gender identity. This limits the ability of UNHCR staff to identify and respond to the protection needs of LGBTI refugees, such as a potential need for resettlement or protection from sexual violence.

"UNHCR should move forward with measures to improve protection for LGBTI refugees, including through revising relevant policies, developing practical guidance that details steps local staff can take to ensure the protection of LGBTI refugees, and ensuring support for implementation. UNHCR's donor States should provide support as UNHCR undertakes these reforms," Bernstein concluded.


UNHCR calls upon states to recognize the needs of people persecuted over sexual orientation or gender identity

Briefing Notes, 1 October 2010

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at the press briefing, on 1 October 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is revising its policies to protect people fleeing persecution due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. This includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual and intersex asylum seekers and refugees. We call upon states to support this commitment through improved understanding and recognition of the particular vulnerabilities of these groups.

This is in light of a survey conducted in advance of a meeting we had this week – with government experts, international organizations, NGOs, academics, and judiciary professionals – which concluded that at every stage of the displacement cycle these vulnerable groups face danger, difficulty and discrimination. UNHCR believes these risks are significant and should not be ignored.

The existence of laws criminalizing same-sex relations in many countries (including the death penalty in seven) poses significant problems for these asylum-seekers and refugees. Such laws, whether enforced or not, impede their ability to access state protection in their home countries. When they flee, they are often reluctant to register for asylum. When they do register for asylum, they may be unlikely to testify truthfully at asylum hearings regarding the nature of their persecution.

The survey found that people from these groups are more prone to sexual- and gender-related violence during detention, both in their home countries and countries of asylum. It also found that they face a heightened risk of discrimination in urban settings and refugee camps.

Durable solutions tend to be more limited, with integration into the country of asylum and return to the home country often not being a possibility. UNHCR advocates for resettlement of individuals who face a heightened risk as a result of belonging to this social group, and calls upon resettlement states to recognize their vulnerability.

UNHCR guidelines and policies will be revised to ensure that the particular vulnerability of these groups is recognized at every stage in our interaction with refugees. The 1951 Refugee Convention spells out that a refugee is someone who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country. In 2008 we issued a guidance note recognizing that individuals being persecuted due to sexual orientation and gender identity should be considered within the 'fleeing due to membership of a particular social group" convention ground.

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