Amongst millions of refugees, those with different sexual orientations are some of the most vulnerable. Fleeing violence and even persecution at home, many travel to Europe only to find themselves targeted by hate crimes once again. As the EU turns a blind eye, it is failing to protect those most in need. On August 4th, Muhammed Wisam Sankari, a homosexual Syrian refugee, was found beheaded in Istanbul.1 A clear example of how refugees, who flee their countries to get away from violence, are not always lucky enough to find a safe environment in the receiving countries. This is especially true for lesbian, gay, bi- or transsexual (LGBT) refugees. Even in the relative safety of Europe many still face becoming a target once again when they are placed in refugee centers.2 (Featured Image © Gary Naeimas)
Ineffective protection of LGBT rights
After the end of World War II, human rights treaties and international nongovernmental organizations multiplied, establishing a continuously growing institutionalized legal framework which offers LGBT persons the possibility to claim human rights protection. Nevertheless, commitment to LGBT rights remains weak or non-existent in many countries.3 Concerning sexual violence in general, research shows that in Europe, asylum seekers and undocumented migrants are at a greater risk than the general population. Up to 28,6% of male and 69,3% of female migrants have been victims of sexual violence since their arrival in Europe.4
Up to 28,6% of male and 69,3% of female migrants have been victims of sexual violence since their arrival in Europe.
A literary review by Keygnaert and Guieu (2015) examines how legal and policy frameworks at national and international levels condition the prevention of and response to sexual violence affecting migrants in the EU. They show how migrants who are vulnerable to sexual victimization, because of factors such as gender or sexual orientation, still face major legal obstacles when seeking protection or trying to access sexual and reproductive health services.5 The authors demonstrate that the EU suffers from tunnel vision by not openly acknowledging sexual victimization of vulnerable migrants taking place within its own territory or the impact of its own policies.6
Separated refugee centers?
LGBT refugees often do not seek the assistance they need, because showing their sexual or gender identities can put them in serious danger.7 Research shows that living in an asylum reception facility greatly increases the chances of falling victim to sexual violence.8 Since the summer of 2015 with the intensification of the refugee crisis, LGBT migrants are reported to have suffered abuse in reception facilities across Europe, sometimes to the point of being forced to move out.9
LGBT refugees often do not seek the assistance they need, because showing their sexual or gender identities can put them in serious danger.
In several countries discussions have risen about whether or not to organize separated refugee centers for LGBT migrants. In February this year, Germany was the first to open such a shelter on a major scale.10 In the Netherlands, several asylum centers installed separated wings for its LGBT residents to guarantee their safety.11 This happened in spite of certain politicians arguing against the idea of divided shelter, putting forward that the focus should be on the offenders and not on the victims, and that isolating LGBTs would mean giving in to intolerance.12
While agreeing with the statement that the offenders should be punished, LGBT organizations claimed that in practice this rarely happens, as the victims do not report the crimes out of fear and mistrust of authorities. Since last October, the gay rights group COC Netherlands has received 32 reports of serious threats against LGBT residents in Dutch asylum centers.13 As from August 1, all Dutch asylum centers installed specialist counselors in response to the persisting concerns about homophobic bullying.14 The future will show if this is a sufficient measure to guarantee the safety of LGBT refugees.
Since last October, the gay rights group COC has received 32 reports of serious threats against LGBT residents in Dutch asylum centers.
Back in Turkey, Muhammed’s tragic death is unlikely to change anything. The deal between the European Union and Turkey forms an additional threat to LGBT’s human rights. Although homosexuality has been legal in Turkey since 1923, the (large) conservative, Muslim section of Turkish society frowns upon same-sex relationships.15 According to Neil Grungas, Executive Director of the Organization for Refugee, Asylum and Migration (ORAM), Turkey currently has as few as five self-pronounced LGBT persons within a population of over 2.7 million refugees.16 Amnesty International already described the EU-Turkey deal as reckless and illegal, because of human rights abuses within the Turkish borders.17
Turkey currently has as few as five self-pronounced LGBT persons within a population of over 2.7 million refugees.
Crimes such as the beheading of Muhammed Wisam Sankari show that this is especially true for LGBTI refugees. If the EU stays its course many LGBT refugees will continue to be exposed to verbal and physical abuse. Under such circumstances, we cannot be surprised that refugees struggle to feel safe and accepted in their new home countries. Whatever your sexual orientation, everyone deserves to feel safe and respected. Some of the most vulnerable refugees are in dire need of our help and understanding. Right now we are failing them.