Europe’s unprecedented influx of refugees from war-torn Syria includes a contingent who are not only seeking asylum from the violence of war, but from everyday persecution simply because of their sexual identities.
Now, the city of Berlin has announced that they will house these LGBTQ migrants in shelters set to open next month, which are separate from the main refugee camps where they have been deemed “especially vulnerable” to violence.
"Berlin officials identified 95 cases in the German capital alone between August and December 2015, mainly in refugee homes," Markus Ulrich from the LSVD (the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany) told NBC News.
It’s not just on the streets that queer migrants are endangered, with many also facing harassment in refugee shelters here from fellow refugees.
The LSVD’s announcement in late January follows a move by Berlin in September 2015 which classified queer refugees as a social group in need of special protections – particularly in regard to housing and medical and psychological care.
LSVD spokesperson Jouanna Hassoun said that LGBTQ refugees have not always been receiving vouchers for temporary accommodation that they're entitled to from the State for Health and Social Matters. It was because of this that the new shelters became a necessity. Expected to be up and running by March this year, the accommodation will provide housing for 100-120 people.
This consideration for the special needs of queer refugees is a far cry from the treatment similar arrivals have experienced in Australia. In one particular case in 2012, the Refugee Review Tribunal found that a Bangladeshi couple were not eligible for refugee status because it deemed they were not gay.
The men were claiming refugee status on the basis that if they were returned to Bangladesh, because of their homosexuality, they “might be verbally or physically abused, arrested or even killed by religious people and the police”.
The claim related to a 2003 determination by the High Court of Australia which ruled that homosexuals could claim asylum if they could demonstrate that they were indeed gay and would face persecution in their homeland.
The original tribunal finding in November 2012 ruled that they did not find that the men were “homosexual, or had sex, sexual experiences, or a homosexual relationship with [each other] or any other males in Bangladesh or Australia.”
The couple even had to produce some homemade sex snaps to prove that they were indeed in a sexual relationship – in spite of having attended Mardi Gras together, sharing a bank account and attending gay clubs together, as well as community events held by a gay South Indian community organisation in Australia. They even had a witness who gave an account of accidently walking in on them, mid-act in the bedroom.
A 2014 report by the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe University found that:
“What is clear, is that agencies that work with young people from refugee and newly arrived backgrounds have given little if any consideration to questions of sexuality and gender identity beyond matters relating to HIV, STIs and BBVs.”
The report also found that no services had policies and procedures in place for assisting or providing support services for young LGBTI people or those who may be questioning their sexuality and/or gender identity.
In Europe, it seems that slowly but surely more resources are opening up for LGBTQ refugees, with the announcement in Berlin following another case in the Netherlands where five gay migrants were moved to new accommodation in December 2015 after being threatened and attacked.
20-year-old Gay Syrian refugee Omar explained to AFP that while he had experienced such intolerance in his homeland he was disappointed to find it continuing in the more liberal European nation (the first nation in the world to legalise same-sex marriage, in 2001) and mainly from his fellow refugees,
"I read all these articles that said that the Netherlands is very tolerant towards gays and that Amsterdam is the capital of the LGBT community. I saw the images of Gay Pride," he said.
But he says he was abused by his fellow refugees.
"They threatened to kill me, they told me I was the shame of the refugees, they pushed me in the queue to get coffee.”
Following the reports of the attacks, education minister Jet Bussemaker announced on January 25 that refugees in asylum centres will be given lessons in gay rights.
“We should not be naive,” she said.
“Refugees come from countries where gay rights are not a matter of course and where women’s rights are not always accepted.”