Fleeing for love: asylum seekers and sexual orientation in Scandinavia

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This paper is relevant for humanitarian practitioners, especially those involved in refugee status determination, because of its specific focus on the process of status determination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

This review analyses the asylum seeking process for diverse SOGI asylum seekers in Sweden Denmark and Norway. Known for their relatively liberal policies towards sexual minorities, this review seeks to uncover the extent to which these policies extend to asylum seekers. This review focuses on two areas: the legal basis for persons to seek asylum on grounds of sexual orientation in the aforementioned countries; and the asylum-seeking process insofar as it does or does not adequately meet the needs and concerns of diverse SOGI asylum seekers.

This review covers persons seeking asylum on grounds of sexual orientation but does not extend to gender identity, gender expression or intersex characteristics.

The review opens with an overview of the current asylum-seeking climate. As none of the Scandinavian countries (publicly) register asylum claims based on the grounds for claims, it is not possible to say how many persons have applied for asylum on protection grounds in general or sexual orientation grounds specifically. Norway and Denmark do have publicly available incomplete databases, and the Danish Refugee Council has a database of decisions made by the Refugee Appeals Board. The author notes most refugees seek asylum based on multiple claims. The availability and source of data is discussed.

The centrality of diverse SOGI advocacy organisations is discussed: these NGOs play a key role in supporting diverse SOGI asylum seekers and in advocating on their behalf. In short, there is no publicly available and consistent data on the number of refugees who include sexual orientation as grounds for asylum for the selected countries.

The review then discusses sexual orientation as grounds for asylum using the UNHCR guidelines as a starting point. The complexity of sexual orientation asylum claims is then reviewed. The reviewer points out that categorisation of diverse SOGI can paint SOGI as static rather than fluid and the challenges this can and does present. For instance, an example of a person granted asylum on grounds of sexual orientation (same-sex attracted), only to have this annulled later after practicing a heterosexual lifestyle.

The second important issue in sexual orientation-related asylum claims is the imperative to have (and be able to demonstrate) a ‘well-founded fear of being persecuted.’ The review then discusses the laws, regulations and practices in Sweden, Denmark and Norway including their participation in international treaties such as the Refugee Convention and European Convention on Human Rights. A country-by-country analysis follows.

The review moves on to a discussion of the challenges in the asylum seeking process. Some LGBTI refugees who seek asylum in Scandinavia do so precisely because of their tolerance and acceptance for diverse SOGI lifestyles while others arrive in Scandinavia without any awareness that it is within their rights to seek asylum based on diverse SOGI. This segues into a discussion of the provision of information to asylum seekers to ensure all asylum seekers have the information they need to appropriately file claims. Next is a discussion of the standards for reception (i.e. housing) for refugees.

The report then moves into a review of the interview  and data collection process and the obstacles invisibility and bias introduce into these processes. The review concludes that asylum claims on the grounds of sexual orientation are largely under-researched; the review makes recommendations for the UNHCR and resettlement staff to build their competence and knowledge in relation to diverse SOGI issues and concerns.

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"... [T]wo main reasons why persons seeking asylum on grounds of sexual orientation have been rejected, are firstly that the Migration Board and Migration Courts country of origin information states that homosexuals are generally not persecuted because of their sexuality, and secondly because the Migration Board and Courts doubt the veracity of the asylum-seeker's story, including sometimes his or her claimed sexual orientation."

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This review analyses the asylum seeking process for diverse SOGI asylum seekers in Sweden Denmark and Norway. Known for their relatively liberal policies towards sexual minorities, this review seeks to uncover the extent to which these policies extend to asylum seekers. This review focuses on two areas: the legal basis for persons to seek asylum on grounds of sexual orientation in the aforementioned countries; and the asylum-seeking process insofar as it does or does not adequately meet the needs and concerns of diverse SOGI asylum seekers.

This review covers persons seeking asylum on grounds of sexual orientation but does not extend to gender identity, gender expression or intersex characteristics.

The review opens with an overview of the current asylum-seeking climate. As none of the Scandinavian countries (publicly) register asylum claims based on the grounds for claims, it is not possible to say how many persons have applied for asylum on protection grounds in general or sexual orientation grounds specifically. Norway and Denmark do have publicly available incomplete databases, and the Danish Refugee Council has a database of decisions made by the Refugee Appeals Board. The author notes most refugees seek asylum based on multiple claims. The availability and source of data is discussed.

The centrality of diverse SOGI advocacy organisations is discussed: these NGOs play a key role in supporting diverse SOGI asylum seekers and in advocating on their behalf. In short, there is no publicly available and consistent data on the number of refugees who include sexual orientation as grounds for asylum for the selected countries.

The review then discusses sexual orientation as grounds for asylum using the UNHCR guidelines as a starting point. The complexity of sexual orientation asylum claims is then reviewed. The reviewer points out that categorisation of diverse SOGI can paint SOGI as static rather than fluid and the challenges this can and does present. For instance, an example of a person granted asylum on grounds of sexual orientation (same-sex attracted), only to have this annulled later after practicing a heterosexual lifestyle.

The second important issue in sexual orientation-related asylum claims is the imperative to have (and be able to demonstrate) a ‘well-founded fear of being persecuted.’ The review then discusses the laws, regulations and practices in Sweden, Denmark and Norway including their participation in international treaties such as the Refugee Convention and European Convention on Human Rights. A country-by-country analysis follows.

The review moves on to a discussion of the challenges in the asylum seeking process. Some LGBTI refugees who seek asylum in Scandinavia do so precisely because of their tolerance and acceptance for diverse SOGI lifestyles while others arrive in Scandinavia without any awareness that it is within their rights to seek asylum based on diverse SOGI. This segues into a discussion of the provision of information to asylum seekers to ensure all asylum seekers have the information they need to appropriately file claims. Next is a discussion of the standards for reception (i.e. housing) for refugees.

The report then moves into a review of the interview  and data collection process and the obstacles invisibility and bias introduce into these processes. The review concludes that asylum claims on the grounds of sexual orientation are largely under-researched; the review makes recommendations for the UNHCR and resettlement staff to build their competence and knowledge in relation to diverse SOGI issues and concerns.