The route that leads across the Western Balkans can be perilous, especially for people whose personal vulnerability coupled with a lack of protection in their own countries may be the core reason for them to seek safety in Europe. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer and other diverse identities (LGBTIQ+) individuals on the move are not always easily identified, and may require additional support, in particular for those who are survivors of gender-based violence (GBV).
They, like others with specific vulnerabilities, face considerable risks during their journey, starting from their country of origin, in countries of transit and ultimately in the country where they seek asylum. They may be at risk of violence, including gender-based violence because of their orientation and face exploitation from smugglers, other people on the move and, at times, the authorities.
A vast majority of LGBTIQ+ individuals within the mixed movement in BiH likely go undetected, however, UNHCR will always get involved when they explicitly seek international protection in BiH, with their sexual orientation or gender identity serving as a basis for their asylum claim.
For example, UNHCR is providing support to a couple of asylum-seekers who expressed a fear of returning to their country of origin due to a lack of acceptance of homosexuality generally and within their local communities. They ultimately fled the country when their sexual orientation became known to their families and they feared for their safety in the traditional community where they were raised. Unfortunately, throughout their long journey, both individuals experienced violence, exploitation and GBV and reported to have been denied access to asylum in one country.
Earlier this week, on occasion on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reiterated that LGBTIQ+ people should have the right to live peacefully and safely in their own country and UNHCR will continue to advocate in that sense. He also called on nations to welcome those who flee persecution and stated UNHCR will make sure LGBTIQ+ refugees get the support they need, wherever they are.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, this translates in continued efforts and vigilance by United Nations and International NGO actors involved in supporting the authorities to manage the mixed movement situation. Capacity building and training to support identification of persons with specific vulnerabilities and protection risks like LGBTIQ+ individuals is key as are referral mechanisms, safe accommodation, psycho-social assistance and, access to the country’s asylum system.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency is currently aware of a handful more of cases of individuals pursuing asylum in BiH who have been victims of gender based violence as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity, an occurrence which often repeats itself in the country of origin (and serves as the catalyst for the individual leaving and pursuing international protection), in BiH where they seek protection.
Of those individuals UNHCR is familiar with, all of them are in need, at some varying degree, of psychological support, often because of their stigmatization began in their country of origin in addition to physical or psychological violence they may have experienced.
As is the case with other vulnerable groups, there is a clear lack of specialized accommodation for individuals with specific vulnerabilities or heightened protection risks. Such situation can expose the LGBTIQ+ individuals at greater risks of further physical and/or psychological violence.
The UNHCR Representation in Bosnia and Herzegovina partners with the BiH Ministry of Security and it Sector for Asylum and the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs, the BiH Ministry for Human Rights and Refugees as well civil society organisations Vaša Prava BiH, Bosnian-Herzegovinian Women’s Initiative (BHWI) and the Catholic Relief Service (CRS) with the goal to help vulnerable people seeking asylum in the country to have their protections needs identified timely, have access to psycho-social assistance, register their asylum claim and receive free legal aid, have their claims processed timely and, for those granted protection, enable them to integrate in their new community. Several of these activities are supported by the European Union, Italy, Austria, and the people of the USA.