November 8, 2016

The Background

According to UNHCR, in 2015, over 1.1 million migrants and refugees arrived in Europe. In 2016, this flow continues at a rate of 55,000 per month. The conflict in Syria continues to be by far the biggest driver of migration, but the ongoing violence in Afghanistan and Iraq, abuses in Eritrea are also leading people to look for new lives elsewhere. Just 3% (34,215) came by land to Bulgaria and Greece; the rest came by sea to Greece, Italy, Spain, Cyprus and Malta. The vast majority arrived by sea in Greece (over 1.000.000); over 163.000 arrived by sea in Italy (Source: UNHCR). Compared with the previous quarter, the number of first time asylum applicants in the second quarter 2015 notably jumped in the Netherlands (+159%) (Eurostat).

Violence at the collective and personal level is the key driver that forces these individuals to abandon their homes. While doing so, their basic needs and human rights are compromised. This also includes their free choice of identity, dignity and respect. It also includes being free to exercise their sexual orientation and have a partner from the same sex. It also includes exercising this right without being killed or bullied. However, the reality is different as a considerable proportion is in fact made homeless because of their sexual orientation (whether this is kept hidden or is revealed). The European Union and modern Europe has signed treaties and Directives that aim to protect all individuals from persecution and discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation. Examples include the Right to Private and Family Life in the European Convention on Human Rights as well as the 2004 Directive stating unequivocally that those who face persecution for their sexual orientation and gender identity qualify as refugees and many reports showed how minorities, including LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual) people, were being specifically targeted in ongoing conflicts.

There are no exact figures on how many refugees and migrants are LGBT. Belgium is the only EU country that systematically collects and publishes the number of LGBT asylum applications. In its case, the overall number of asylum decisions between 2008 and 2012 totaled 67 576, of which 2 992 or 4.43% were based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Thus, if this average of were to be extrapolated to the total number of asylum applicants in the EU in 2015 the annual number of LGBT refugees would be around 44.000.

LGBT asylum seekers are often at risk of additional danger during their journey and upon arrival in the country where they seek asylum, which can take the form of harassment, exclusion, sexual violence, or other forms of violence. Trans people in particular have been the victim of harassment, including threats, verbal violence and physical violence UNHCR’s 2015 report clearly showed that LGBT people are subject to severe social exclusion and violence in reception centres, and especially in camp settings and this has been also recently acknowledged by a report of the European Parliament (10.02.16) on the situation of women and LGBT refugees and asylum seekers in the EU. From the media, we can already register many concrete cases: in the Netherlands, the LGBT advocacy association COC alarmed the authorities after testimonies by Iraqi and Syrian LGBTI people who were being threatened to be beaten up or raped in reception centres. In Germany, stories of LGBT people being attacked and harassed in reception centres arose, which caused NGOs and local authorities to create separate shelters in Berlin and in Nuremberg. In the UK, a cross-party parliamentary inquiry criticized the abuse, bullying and harassment of LGBT people in immigration detention centres. In order to respond to this situation, the European Parliament EU (2015/2325(INI)) called on all Member States to adopt asylum procedures and endeavor to develop training programmes which are sensitive to the needs of LGBT persons and especially women.

These high level, EU-wide policy initiatives must be completed with on the ground, national and local educational efforts targeted at adult professionals who work directly with LGBT migrants and refugees. This complementary work needs to have an EU wide impact and must be evidence based and user-led. Responding to this need, EpsiLon brings together key partners from 5 case study countries to exchange ideas and develop a training programme for professionals and volunteers working with asylum seekers and refugees in asylum centers, camps, other shelters and in local communities to better understand the specific situation and requirements of LGBT people. The partners will adopt a user-led methodology by constructing educational tools that are based on the voices and real needs of LGBT migrants and refugees. Through this voices, learning will take place in the form of face to face and online. This will be promoted both internally (between partners) and externally (nationally and EU wide).