LGBT Refugees: Perpetuated Persecution in Asylum

Hannah Matangos

Hannah Matangos was a research intern at AICGS for the spring semester of 2016.

Life as an asylum seeker is not an easy one.  Having faced persecution and violence in their home countries and uprooted their entire lives, these migrants face political, socioeconomic, and psycho-emotional stresses.  To be granted asylum in the West is a chance to start a new life, safe from persecution—or at least it should be.

Asylum seekers belonging to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community face additional challenges, and are often subject to verbal, physical, and sexual violence in the shelters that are meant to be a safe haven.

Alaa Ammar, who fled Syria and arrived in a shelter in Ter Apel in the Netherlands, said he and other gay migrants almost immediately faced discrimination.

“After five minutes, they started looking. After 10 minutes, they started to talk. After one hour, they came to us,” Ammar told a reporter.  “After three hours, they started fighting with us.”

Often these confrontations are perpetrated by other migrants and refugees and sometimes security staff and translators, the latter of which have quit as soon as they found out the person they were translating for is not straight.  There is a cultural clash among straight and LGBT migrants, since homosexuality is seen as taboo in Muslim countries.  In Syria, homosexuality is illegal, and the Islamic State has killed more than thirty gay men in Syria and Iraq over the past two years in accordance with its sodomy laws, which state that death is the penalty “for both the receiver and the giver.”  A recent atrocity near Damascus saw a transgender woman hanged by her breasts.

Alaa Ammar was transferred to another shelter in Apeldoorn, but there, too, three refugees attacked him and another man in the communal washroom and left them with knife wounds.  Ammar only found safety and freedom from discrimination after being transferred to a private host in Amsterdam.

Most cases of abuse toward LGBT migrants in shelters go undocumented, since migrants are afraid their asylum applications will be jeopardized if they report abuse to the police.  The Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany, however, counted 106 cases of violence against LGBT refugees in the area of Berlin from August 2015 to the end of January 2016. Most of these cases occurred in migrant centers, and thirteen included sexual assault.  Other reported abuse cases have occurred in the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland.

Equally important for LGBT migrants is to be granted priority status as one group among several “deemed to be the most vulnerable.”  The Obama administration has announced that LGBT people will be a priority group for asylum.

Efforts have been made in Germany (which took in over one million seekers in the last year) to reduce friction by opening shelters specifically for LGBT asylum seekers, the first of which opened in Berlin in February 2016 and will accommodate 140 LGBT migrants.  An estimate shows that there are about 3,500 LGBT asylum seekers in Berlin alone.  LGBT migrants in general tend to be neglected by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community-based outreach, which often fail to recognize their unique plight or are not educated about the community.  Without a discrimination-free safe haven and recognition by immigration officials and NGOs as a priority group, these asylum seekers will find no asylum to be had.

Ms. Hannah Matangos is a Research Intern at AGI.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American-German Institute.