Invisible in the City: Protection Gaps Facing Sexual Minority Refugees and Asylum Seekers in urban Ecuador, Ghana, Israel and Kenya

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This report is relevant for humanitarian practitioners because it provides specific examples of high-density refugee/asylum seeker populations in urban centres in a variety of contexts. The recommendations included in this report are specifically relevant to humanitarian practitioners who are operating in areas with complex and prolonged conflict, or who work in refugee assessment, resettlement or service provision.

This report presents the findings of a one-year research project undertaken by HIAS in Ecuador, Ghana, Israel and Kenya. 66 interviews with sexual minority refugees, asylums seekers and migrants and 92 representatives of governments, international organisations and civil society organisations were used as primary data.

The report provides a brief overview of the reasons why sexual minority refugees flee their countries of origin (namely exclusion, lack of legal protection/status and escaping violence, be it conflict related or related to their diverse SOGI, or both) and the existing gaps in the UNHCR protection system. Invisibility of sexual minority refugees and asylum seekers is identified as a key challenge—but invisibility is often a survival mechanism adopted by SGM refugees.

The report opens by providing an overview of the international legal system, one that was designed without due consideration to SGM refugees. Recent efforts by the UNHCR to become more inclusive are covered, and the purpose of the assessment is reviewed. The purpose of this project was to map the lived experiences of sexual minority refugees living in urban centres and to identify emerging gaps in the protection of this population as voiced by interview subjects. A brief overview of methodology precedes a presentation of findings: social exclusion and discrimination is compounded based on race, sex, gender, HIV status, engagement in sex work and/or internal power hierarchies within SGM groups; lesbian refugees are disproportionately affected by structural and socioeconomic barriers; many SGM refugees isolate/closet or pass as cisgender/heterosexual to survive in their new setting; traumatic stress is prevalent; social, cultural and legal prejudice are present but can be overcome/ameliorated through building community; SGM refugees distrust asylum seeking processes and are reluctant to disclose sexual orientation/gender identity if they believe they may be further persecuted; there are significant tensions between self-representation and identification and categorisation-40.8% of those interviewed have identities/orientations that do not correspond to the categories LGBT or I as used by the UNHCR; and SGM refugees and asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable to abuse and violence. The report then delves more deeply into country-based findings.

Country  based findings provide insight into the status, experiences and challenges diverse SGM refugees and asylum seekers face in each context. The report then moves on to recommendations for all stakeholders, for donors, for UNHCR, for refugee NGOs and for diverse SOGI advocates.

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"Internal and external silencing of sexual minority refugee voices means most protection professionals operate with little access to information about the identities or persecution experiences of sexual minority refugees."

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This report presents the findings of a one-year research project undertaken by HIAS in Ecuador, Ghana, Israel and Kenya. 66 interviews with sexual minority refugees, asylums seekers and migrants and 92 representatives of governments, international organisations and civil society organisations were used as primary data.

The report provides a brief overview of the reasons why sexual minority refugees flee their countries of origin (namely exclusion, lack of legal protection/status and escaping violence, be it conflict related or related to their diverse SOGI, or both) and the existing gaps in the UNHCR protection system. Invisibility of sexual minority refugees and asylum seekers is identified as a key challenge—but invisibility is often a survival mechanism adopted by SGM refugees.

The report opens by providing an overview of the international legal system, one that was designed without due consideration to SGM refugees. Recent efforts by the UNHCR to become more inclusive are covered, and the purpose of the assessment is reviewed. The purpose of this project was to map the lived experiences of sexual minority refugees living in urban centres and to identify emerging gaps in the protection of this population as voiced by interview subjects. A brief overview of methodology precedes a presentation of findings: social exclusion and discrimination is compounded based on race, sex, gender, HIV status, engagement in sex work and/or internal power hierarchies within SGM groups; lesbian refugees are disproportionately affected by structural and socioeconomic barriers; many SGM refugees isolate/closet or pass as cisgender/heterosexual to survive in their new setting; traumatic stress is prevalent; social, cultural and legal prejudice are present but can be overcome/ameliorated through building community; SGM refugees distrust asylum seeking processes and are reluctant to disclose sexual orientation/gender identity if they believe they may be further persecuted; there are significant tensions between self-representation and identification and categorisation-40.8% of those interviewed have identities/orientations that do not correspond to the categories LGBT or I as used by the UNHCR; and SGM refugees and asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable to abuse and violence. The report then delves more deeply into country-based findings.

Country  based findings provide insight into the status, experiences and challenges diverse SGM refugees and asylum seekers face in each context. The report then moves on to recommendations for all stakeholders, for donors, for UNHCR, for refugee NGOs and for diverse SOGI advocates.