LGBT Refugees

It is not an easy process for a persecuted LGBT person to get to a safe country. Most are unable to, or fail. It can take many years and they may have to face many difficult barriers finding a place where they can express themselves without fear. Here is a crash course in what LGBT refugees have to go to in order to resettle in a safe country.

STEP 1:Self Awareness as LGBT

Most people in repressive countries never develop the insight, language or self confidence to self-describe as LGBT. Language is often a barrier to self-awareness and self-acceptance. Words that are used to describe being gay are often filled with extremely negative meaning (e.g. faggot, sodomite). Family and broader social pressures to conform and participate in heterosexual life including marriage may result in submerged self-identity. Without positive role models and supports, many people do not have the self-confidence to identify as a sexual or gender minority person. Even though they may be severely persecuted and discriminated against, most LGBT people live in denial, with self-loathing, or in fear and hiding.

STEP 2: Learning There Are Better Options

Many persecuted LGBT persons have no idea that there are other countries as well as the “United Nations High Commission for Refugees” that would treat them with respect regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. When they learn that there are options to improve their lives and that others who have successfully escaped persecution are living better lives, they realize that there is hope and that they may have some options.

STEP 3: Getting Out of Their Home Country

Leaving is often very difficult. Some countries that persecute LGBT people have neighboring countries that are no better. In a rush, some persecuted LGBT people make the mistake of moving to neighbouring dangerously homophobic countries. The ability to fly to a safe country requires money and knowledge. Some LGBT young people do not finish school because of severe bullying. Without an education there may never have the money, skill or knowledge to fly to a safer country. In some situations the government may disallow the LGBT person from leaving their home country.

STEP 4: Getting Refugee Status

However, once they are outside their country of origin they can start the process of applying for refugee status. Not everyone is successful in convincing the UN High Commission for Refugees or the country to which they have fled that they are LGBT and that returning to the country they fled from is not an option. Once in the second country, they may not be allowed to work or attend school, secure housing and speak the language. Some turn to prostitution or illegal jobs that pay very little just to survive.

STEP 5: Applying for Permanent Settlement

Some countries to which refugees flee will not allow them to permanently settle in them. The refugee may need to ask for permission to permanently settle in a safe third country. If the second country or the UN High Commission for Refugees grants them refugee status they may apply for permanent residency status in another country they would like to immigrate to.

The United States, Australia, Canada and the Nordic countries provide safe places for these people to go. In recent years European and Latin American countries have increased involvement in resettlement. Reaching Out Winnipeg helps bring these refugees to Winnipeg.

 Waiting for a Decision About Resettlement 

Once they’ve made their choice of where they will go, they apply and then wait for an interview with embassy staff. Canada then screens them to make sure they meet the criteria of the Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program; and medical, criminal and security screening requirements. Not every person referred by the UNHCR is accepted for resettlement in Canada. Refugees may wait a year, two years, or much longer until they are accepted into Canada. During this time they try to find a way to make or get money so they can continue to live.

Finally they wait for a flight that is arranged for them. They may also need an exit visa from the country in which they live as temporary residents. In some circumstances people are denied the opportunity to exit after all of this effort and waiting.

 Settling in Canada

The person arrives in Canada with permanent resident status. The process doesn’t stop there. Once they get to the safety of Canada they have to start their life all over again. They often don’t know anyone or speak English or French. They need to find a place to live, get a job and learn to speak, read and write, often with little help. Getting health care/insurance, finding transportation, managing the weather and Canadian customs and rules, these are all things that we take for granted every day, but are challenges for resettled LGBT refugees.

The process is long and scary. That’s why Reaching Out Winnipeg is here to help. ROW connects private sponsors with LGBT refugees to help guide them throughout their process.

We are able to help these refugees permanently settle in Winnipeg. We can help prepare them for what they’ll find when they get here, help them find places to live, language classes, health care, education, provide some financial support once they’re here and many other types of support.

Above all of that, we are also a trusted, friendly face when they arrive and help them begin a new life in a safe place. We try to video conference regularly with the refugee while they are in the process to build relationships and a sense of trust before they arrive.

Want to know more? Read about LGBT rights around the world and find out how you can get involved.