Persecuted beyond borders: why Italy needs LGBT refugee shelters

On Sept 20, 2017 openDemocracy reported: LGBT refugees fleeing torture, violence and discrimination often find persecution has followed them to Europe. Reception centres are beginning to respond to urgent needs.

Amani Zreba (right).Amani Zreba (right). Photo: courtesy of Amani Zreba. All rights reserved.Amani Zreba, 36, was forced to flee Tripoli six years ago because of her sexuality. “I had a girlfriend from Egypt, and the whole society was hostile to us. At first I went to Egypt with her. I stayed there for a year, but I had to move even from there,” she told me.

Zreba now lives in Milan, and is a volunteer for Immigrazione e Omosessualita,an association supporting LGBT refugees. “I came here as asylum seeker,” she said. “It was not easy, but after six months I got my status as a political refugee.”

Today she wouldn’t even consider going back to Libya. “I am scared,” she explained. “And now the situation in the country is really dangerous.”

Her organisation is hoping to open a reception centre specifically for LGBT asylum seekers in Milan, to provide shelter from sometimes vicious homophobic violence, experienced throughout their journeys towards official refugee status.

‘Isolated and fearful’

Libya’s 1953 criminal code criminalised homosexuality, with penalties of up to five years in prison. The fall of Muammar Gaddafi has not improved things; in 2012 a Libyan official shocked the UN by proclaiming that “gay people threaten the future of the human race”.

According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, Libya is one of 72 countries that criminalise people based on their sexual orientation. In at least eight of these states, those convicted under anti-LGBT laws can be executed. In 19 countries, homophobia is state-sanctioned under “morality” laws that “actively target public promotion or expression of same-sex and trans realities.”

When Zreba arrived in Italy, she was sent to a reception centre where she felt intimidated by other asylum seekers because of her sexuality. “I was told that there was a guard from Libya in the centre. I was afraid that he or others could find out the reason of my asylum request and my sexual orientation,” she said.

Zreba recalls being “isolated and fearful for the whole time” she was in the centre waiting for her application to be accepted: “It was intolerable. I was afraid for my family in Libya because of the war, but I was worried about my situation too. It was the toughest human experience I ever lived.”

Read much more at: Persecuted beyond borders: why Italy needs LGBT refugee shelters | openDemocracy

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