HIAS Panel Discussion Urges Strategies for Protecting LGBTI Refugees
Posted by Roberta Elliott on Mon, May 06, 2013 at 13:56 pm
HIAS kicked off the launch of its groundbreaking report, Invisible in the City: Protection Gaps Facing Sexual Minority Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Urban Ecuador, Ghana, Israel and Kenya, with a panel discussion this morning at Human Rights First’s offices in Manhattan. The report was researched and written for HIAS by Yiftach Millo, an expert in forced migration; it was funded by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.
Five years ago, there was little discussion of the challenges of LGBTI refugees; today HIAS and other refugee/human rights agencies—with full support of the UNHCR—are blazing the trail for enhanced protection of sexual-minority refugees. The panel was moderated by Mark Hetfield, HIAS’ President & CEO, and included Millo, plus Duncan Breen, Senior Associate, Refugee Protection Program, Human Rights First; Virginia Cruickshank, Sr. Vice President, Workforce Development, FEGS; and Sivanka Dhanapala, Senior Policy Advisor, UNHCR.
Some notable quotes drove home the importance of this work at the highest levels. Dhanapala cited the UN Secretary General’s remarks in Oslo in mid-April: “We should all speak out when someone is arrested and imprisoned because of who they love and how they look. This is one of the great, neglected human rights challenges of our time. We must right these wrongs. Governments have a legal duty to protect everyone. But far too many still refuse to acknowledge the injustice of homophobic violence and discrimination.”
Cruickshank lamented that with so many sexual minority refugees in the world, so far this year, none who have arrived at her New York agency, FEGS, have been LGBTI—because they are simply not getting through the red tape to get here.
And as Breen and Millo pointed out, most of the challenges lie overseas, where LGBTI individuals are “invisible,” trying to stay under the radar to escape recognition. Refugee workers must learn to recognize them and create safe environments so these individuals can step forward and get the protection they need.
Addressing this, the report recommends:
- UNHCR and refugee NGOs must conduct outreach to sexual minority refugees where they live and work.
- UNHCR, governments, and resettlement countries must implement mechanisms to expedite the registration, claim evaluation, and resettlement of at-risk sexual minority refugees.
- UNHCR, government agencies, refugee NGOs, service providers, and sexual minority and refugee advocates must coordinate protection strategies and build referral pathways to ensure the greater protection of sexual minority refugees.
- UNHCR, government agencies, refugee NGOs, and service providers must regularly train all levels of staff on sensitively serving and protecting sexual minority refugees, and take other steps to create welcoming environments for sexual minorities.
- Donors should prioritize funding safe shelter options for sexual minority refugees in urban environments.
In the room were representatives of the spectrum of agencies and law firms interested in LGBTI refugee protection: Amnesty International Australia; SAGE; Arcus Foundation; Immigration Equality; Women's Refugee Commission; Wellspring Advisors; Human Rights Watch; IRAP; Research Institute Without Walls; T'ruah; Human Rights First; IRC; Metropolitan Community Church; UNHCR; Church World Service; Debevoise & Plimpton LLP; Latham & Watkins; Robinson & Cole LLP; RIWW; the Law Office of Randall Chamberlain, PLLC; The Legal Aid Society; and FEGS.
Millo continues his circuit this week with events in Washington, DC tomorrow, including a Hill briefing (invitation only) and an evening event at the JCC (open to the public), plus a presentation at HIAS’ Affiliate Conference 2013 in Philadelphia on Thursday (invitation only).
To read the full report, visit: http://www.hias.org/en/pages/policy-position-papers.
Thanks to Human Rights First and T’ruah for co-sponsoring the event!
[UPDATE: Check out the remarks made at the Hill briefing by Anne Richard, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration at the U.S. Department of State.]