By Eoin Burke-Kennedy
An Irish youth organisation has secured funding from the European Refugee Fund to provide support services for young people seeking asylum in Ireland on the basis of their sexual orientation.
BelongTo, which works with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people (LGBT), has received €135,000 from the European Refugee Fund, through Pobail, for a two-year programme to acquaint asylum services here on how to deal with LGBT refugees.
The grant, which will also fund a direct support service for LGBT migrants inside the State, has been matched by a further €40,000 in funding from the Health Service Executive.
While the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service does not provide numbers on LGBT refugee cases, BelongTo said it has been dealing with a string of cases involving young people fleeing persecution from African and Middle Eastern countries on the grounds of sexual orientation.
In many instances, the refugees are too fearful to disclose their sexual identity in case they are "outed", and forced to go back if their case is refused, said BelongTo’s director Michael Barron.
Asylum seekers are not afforded the protection of the State’s equality legislation, Mr Barron said, and are often unaware they can claim asylum on the basis of a sexual orientation or gender. Another issue, he highlighted, was the housing of LGBT refugees in hostels with people from the same countries, which can often expose them to further discrimination and persecution.
The primary focus of his organisation’s project, he said, would to be to build the capacity of Irish asylum services and the Department of Justice to work with LGBT refugees.
Political asylum generally covers asylum sought on the basis of nationality, race, religion, membership or participation in a particular social group. Many countries have recently extended asylum to LGBT people, recognising them as a particular social group subject to persecution.
Last year, a gay Nigerian man who claimed he faced persecution over his sexuality in his native country won a High Court challenge to his deportation. The court ruled the then minister for justice's decision gave no consideration to principles set out in a UN Human Rights Commission guidance note which says having to hide one's sexual orientation may amount to persecution.