U.S. safe haven for LGBT refugees

Unlike other refugees, LGBTI individuals, who have fled their home countries due to persecution based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, often arrive in the U.S. alone; many have been victims of violence, torture, and rape.

Nearly a year after his arrival in the United States, Malik, a 28-year-old gay Iraqi, shudders to think what would have happened to him if he hadn’t fled his country. “In Iraq, people don’t like gay people. They are not accepted; they are oppressed. Most gay men live a double life,” he explains. He is adapting quickly to the new culture — a haven after living in fear for his life in Baghdad.

Malik is a beneficiary of HIAS’ Preferred Communities Special Populations project, which provides intensive case management and specialized services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) refugees, asylees, and special immigrant visa holders in order to help them acclimate to and integrate into U.S. society.

Services are provided immediately upon arrival and continue as refugees learn to live in the U.S. Therapists, case managers, and volunteers provide an invaluable support system, helping refugees like Malik navigate social services, the healthcare system, and educational and vocational resources.

Because M. has no family in the U.S. and survives on little more than $500 a month, he relies on the support of a group of volunteers for everything from rides to the doctor to practicing English. He is working hard to learn the language quickly because he knows it is imperative to finding a job and becoming self-sufficient, enrolling in school, and finding a stable relationship.

But Malik no longer thinks of himself as a refugee. “Now I am a resident!” he says proudly. “I am so happy I came to the U.S. It is a dream!”