UNHCR urges tolerance of displaced people persecuted for their sexuality
GENEVA, October 1 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency on Friday called for greater understanding of the difficulties faced by people due to their sexual orientation or gender identity and urged recognition of their vulnerability.
"At every stage of the displacement cycle these vulnerable groups face danger, difficulty and discrimination," UNHCR's chief spokesperson, Melissa Fleming, told journalists in Geneva on Friday, while urging tolerance.
She said UNHCR had conducted a survey on the main challenges facing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex asylum-seekers and refugees. The findings were presented at a meeting in Geneva on Thursday of governments, international organizations, NGOs, academics, and judiciary professionals to discuss the particular vulnerability of this group.
"People from these groups are more prone to sexual and gender-related violence during detention, both in their home countries and countries of asylum," said the spokesperson. "They face a heightened risk of discrimination in urban settings and refugee camps," she added.
Fleming noted that seven countries have the death penalty for same-sex relations, while many others have laws criminalizing this. "Such laws, whether enforced or not, impede their ability to access state protection in their home countries," she said.
UNHCR is revising all of its guidelines and policies to ensure that the vulnerability of these groups is recognized at every stage of its dealings with refugees and asylum seekers. In 2008, UNHCR took the first steps by issuing a guidance note that clarified the fact 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" refugee convention ground.
Durable solutions tend to be more limited for these groups, with integration in the country of asylum and repatriation 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," said Fleming, adding that UNHCR is also calling upon states to recognize the vulnerability of this group.
This week's two-day meeting, which ended on Friday, followed a high-level event at the United Nations in Geneva on September 17 when a panel of experts stressed the need to end violence and criminal sanctions on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu joined with civil society representatives from Cameroon, Guyana and India to call for an end to human rights violations directed against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
By Sybella Wilkes in Geneva