Are You Syrious?
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Are You Syrious?

AYS Special from Greece: The situation of LGBTQI+ people on the move

Greece, the gateway to Europe and to all the imagery that goes with it, attracts LGBTQI+ people, because they think they will find refuge there. Unfortunately, this is not often the case. Greece is a conservative country, where the Church is not entirely separated from the State and where the LGBTQI+ community is struggling to find their place. A Special by France — Athènes Connexion.

Athens, 11 June 2019 (Credit: Lgbtqia+ Refugees Welcome)

One of us works as a social worker in an NGO specialised in supporting LGBTQI+ exiles. The work consists of accompanying them through their administrative procedures to obtain residence papers, to access care and health and through their inclusion path in Athens (language learning, integration into professional life, etc.). As part of this job, one of us was able to conduct a series of interviews with the organisation ILGA, to collect data on the situation of LGBTQI+ exiles in Greece, in order to submit a report to the European Union and to change the laws regarding the reception of people belonging to the community. Two of us work in NGOs that support single women with children and among these women, some are part of the LGBTQI+ community. The data and observations that we detail below are the result of our personal knowledge along with the different studies referenced in this article. We hope that this writing correctly reflects the situation of a community of people who have been doubly or even triply marginalised: by their exile status, their sexual orientation and their gender identity.

In 2017, an Athens-based of LGBTQI+ refugees seized Roger Bernat’s replica of the oath stone which featured in the Documenta14 art festival (Credit: Lgbtqia+ Refugees Welcome)

LGBTQI + people around the world, and their reasons for leaving their country.

In many countries (76), homosexuality is criminalised. It can be punishable by prison, torture, banishment from the community, or even the death penalty. As for transgender identity, it was defined by the World Health Organization as “an identity and gender disorder” and included in the list of mental illnesses until it was withdrawn in May 2019. However, the countries that are the most advanced in terms of rights for LGBTQI+ people are not necessarily those that we think.

For example, in 2018 in Pakistan, the government adopted the “Transgender Persons (Protection of rights) Act” , which gave trans people the right to choose their identity among: female, male or non-binary and to enter it on their identity paper. It remains difficult to have a global point of view on trans identity, as gender norms change from one culture to another. However, homosexuality, like trans identity, is generally not accepted in our societies, which discriminate and persecute people who dare to define themselves as such.

The main reasons that push LGBTQI+ exiles to flee their countries of origin are: fear of violence from a member of their family and/or their community; fear of being persecuted by representatives of the state, police and/or army; because they have suffered repeated physical and sexual violence due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. These reasons were observed by one of us when conducting interviews with exiles from the LGBTQI + community.

Sexual violence

We observed that a very large majority of LGBTQI+ people have been victims of sexual violence. Rape and other assaults take place in the countries of origin, on the road to exile, but also in Greece — in Athens and in the camps of the islands of Lesbos, Samos or Chios. After having collected many testimonies, we were able to notice that the rapes, against men, generally take place after the discovery of their sexual orientation by other people (men). Rape against women takes place everywhere, constantly and is a danger to all of them. However, lesbian women also have to endure “corrective” rapes committed with the intention (based on a homophobic and false perception of homosexuality) of “correcting” their sexual orientation. Transgender people, who represent a non-negligible part of the LGBTQI + community, are equally victims of these sexual assaults.

The living situation of LGBTQI+ exiles in Greece

“People fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity are eligible for refugee status under Article 1A (2) of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and / or its 1967 Protocol ” (UNHCR, Guidelines for international protection n.9, 2012)

Exiled people belonging to the LGBTQI+ community are doubly marginalised, first as exiles, and therefore foreigners, by the local population, then as LGBTQI+ people by their own ethnic group or community. Many do not dare to admit their gender identity and sexual orientation for fear of reliving harassment, discrimination or other forms of violence. By being locked up in camps with other exiles, they sometimes relive the violence that pushed them to flee their countries of origin, which is why some hide it and do not mention it during their asylum interviews. The fear of reprisals is too great.

Justice For Zak/Zackie (Photo Credit: Viktoria Solidarity, October 2020)

Belonging to the LGBTQI+ community is considered a vulnerability, just like a person with a disability. Vulnerable people have the right to greater protection during their asylum application. Some NGOs operating in the camps are supposed to identify these people so that they can be transferred to safer accommodation. Unfortunately, no mechanism for prevention exists and it is usually necessary to wait until a violent episode occurs before they can leave the hell of these open-air prisons.

The consequences of this violence and discrimination are enormous, and they are primarily psychological: severe depression or post-traumatic stress disorder is the daily life of too many people. The very precarious situation experienced by the vast majority of exiles, added to the isolation that LGBTQI+ people specifically experience, lead this community to take risks in order to survive and it is not uncommon, for example, for them to turn to sex work.

What we are trying to do at our level that should be supported

NGOs, collectives, associations, and other solidarity groups are fighting to assert the fundamental rights of LGBTQI+ people. Their integration in the host country is crucial and should be normal. We must redouble our efforts to provide safe spaces, institutionalised, standardised and accessible support mechanisms, and moral and physical support based on solid knowledge of the important place LGBTQI+ people occupy in today’s world. .

Stickers created by the queer feminist group of Viktoria Solidarity, December 2020

France — Athènes Connexion already shared a post in January on queer feminism (in French), written by the Athens-based Viktoria Solidarity group. Today we offer a selection of websites and brochures to learn more and support this community as a worker, friend and/or activist. We believe, in fact, that change also involves the transmission of knowledge.

The Asile LGBT association, based in Switzerland, supports the LGBTQI+ population in their asylum application but also wants to improve the almost non-existent statistics in Switzerland on this community. Thus, it has created and distributed tools accessible to all for a more inclusive and egalitarian welcome. Here is a brochure (in French) that you can print and share!

ORAM (Organisation for Refuge, Asylum, and Migration) is an international non-profit organisation that allows the international community to protect the most vulnerable categories of people on the move. Here are two brochures that caught our attention:

Conclusion:

Today the criminalisation of homosexuality and transgender identity across the world has repercussions in non-criminalising countries, which are however the only viable states for LGBTQI+ exiles fleeing a conflict, a disaster and/or other threats to their survival. Non-criminalising countries should be able to guarantee the safety of those people who have nowhere else to go, including by providing adequate asylum policies and safe spaces for all. Even if laws in favour of the LGBTQI+ community have been incorporated by some states and in asylum procedures over the past thirty years, the gap between their formulation and their implementation is still too large.

The struggles against racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia are interconnected and inseparable. These different axes of oppression must be distinguished from each other, in order to recognise and respond to the particular vulnerabilities of each oppressed community, but must all be taken into consideration in our struggle for equality, so that no one is forgotten and erased.

It is the fight against all forms of oppression, for the respect of rights and equality for all.

Originally published in French by France — Athènes Connexion, on 11 February 2021.

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Are You Syrious?

News digests from the field, mainly for volunteers and people on the move, but also for journalists, decision makers and other parties.