UNHCR calls upon states to recognise the needs of people persecuted on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity

©UNHCR/P.Hansen

UNHCR is revising its policies to protect people fleeing persecution due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. This includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual 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. 

On October 1st UNHCR held an international roundtable on asylum seekers and refugees seeking protection on account of their sexual orientation and gender identity. A survey conducted ahead of the roundtable found 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 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. Long-term prospects tend to be 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. Our guidelines and policies will be revised to ensure that the particular vulnerability of these groups is recognised. 

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 recognising 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.

A decision by the UK Supreme Court in July this year in the case of HJ (Iran) and HT (Cameroon) took into account this guidance note in recognising the rights of LGBT people in need of protection. Following submissions to the Supreme Court by UNHCR and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the test that a person could be reasonably expected to tolerate using ‘discretion’ to conceal their sexuality if returned to their home country was found contrary to the 1951 Convention. Future cases will be considered in light of guidance from the Supreme Court. Home Secretary Theresa May welcomed the decision, saying 'I do not believe it is acceptable to send people home and expect them to hide their sexuality to avoid persecution.'