UNHCR calls upon states to recognize the needs of people persecuted over sexual orientation or gender identity

Briefing Notes, 1 October 2010

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 1 October 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is revising its policies to protect people fleeing persecution due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. This includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex asylum seekers and refugees. We call upon states to support this commitment through improved understanding and recognition of the particular vulnerabilities of these groups.

This is in light of a survey conducted in advance of a meeting we had this week with government experts, international organizations, NGOs, academics, and judiciary professionals which concluded that at every stage of the displacement cycle these vulnerable groups face danger, difficulty and discrimination. UNHCR believes these risks are significant and should not be ignored.

The existence of laws criminalizing same-sex relations in many countries (including the death penalty in seven) poses significant problems for these asylum-seekers and refugees. Such laws, whether enforced or not, impede their ability to access state protection in their home countries. When they flee, they are often reluctant to register for asylum. When they do register for asylum, they may be unlikely to testify truthfully at asylum hearings regarding the nature of their persecution.

The survey found that people from these groups are more prone to sexual- and gender-related violence during detention, both in their home countries and countries of asylum. It also found that they face a heightened risk of discrimination in urban settings and refugee camps.

Durable solutions tend to be more limited, with integration into the country of asylum and return to the home country often not being a possibility. UNHCR advocates for resettlement of individuals who face a heightened risk as a result of belonging to this social group, and calls upon resettlement states to recognize their vulnerability.

UNHCR guidelines and policies will be revised to ensure that the particular vulnerability of these groups is recognized at every stage in our interaction with refugees. The 1951 Refugee Convention spells out that a refugee is someone who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country. In 2008 we issued a guidance note recognizing that individuals being persecuted due to sexual orientation and gender identity should be considered within the 'fleeing due to membership of a particular social group" convention ground.