As Countries Tighten Anti-gay Laws, More and More LGBTQ+ Migrants Are Seeking Protection and Asylum in Europe - Latest Global News

As Countries Tighten Anti-gay Laws, More and More LGBTQ+ Migrants Are Seeking Protection and Asylum in Europe

RIETI, Italy (AP) — Ella Anthony knew it was time to leave her native Nigeria when she escaped an abusive forced marriage and saw angry relatives threatening to turn her in to the police because she was gay.

Because Nigeria criminalizes same-sex relationships, Anthony fled a possible prison sentence and traveled with her partner to Libya in 2014 and then to Italy, where both received asylum. Your claim? That they had a well-founded fear of the persecution of LGBTQ+ people in their homeland.

While many of the hundreds of thousands of migrants coming to Italy from Africa and the Middle East are fleeing war, conflict and poverty, more and more people are fleeing possible prison sentences and death sentences in their home countries because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Proponents say.

And despite major obstacles to receiving asylum on LGBTQ+ grounds, Anthony and her partner Doris Ezuruike Chinonso. are proof that it is possible, even if the challenges for so-called “rainbow refugees” like them remain great.

“Certainly life here in Italy is not 100% what we want. But let’s say it’s 80% better than in my country,” said Chinonso, 34, with Anthony by her side at her home in Rieti, north of Rome. In Nigeria, “if you’re lucky, you end up in prison. If you’re not lucky, they kill you,” she said.

“You can live here however you want,” she said.

Most European countries do not keep statistics on the number of migrants who cite persecution of LGBTQ+ people as a reason for seeking international refugee protection. But non-governmental organizations tracking the phenomenon say the numbers are rising as countries pass or tighten laws against homosexuality – a trend highlighted on Friday, the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.

To date, more than 60 countries have anti-LGBTQ+ laws, most of them in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia.

“The bottom line is that people are trying to flee these countries to find safe haven elsewhere,” said Kimahli Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad, which provides financial, legal and logistical support to LGBTQ+ people in need of asylum assistance.

In an interview, Powell said his organization received about 15,000 requests for help last year, up from about 9,500 the year before. A tenth of those applications in 2023, or about 1,500, came from Uganda, which passed an anti-homosexuality law this year that imposes the death penalty for “serious homosexuality” and up to 14 years in prison for “attempted serious homosexuality.”

According to Human Rights Watch, Nigeria also criminalizes consensual same-sex relationships between adults and public displays of affection between same-sex couples, and restricts the work of groups that advocate for gay people and their rights. In regions of Nigeria where Sharia law applies, LGBTQ+ people face up to 14 years in prison or the death penalty.

Anthony, 37, said it was precisely the threat of prison that forced her to leave. She said her family sold her into marriage but she gave up the relationship because her husband repeatedly abused her. When she returned home, her brother and uncles threatened to turn her into the police because she was gay. The fear and alienation first drove her to attempt suicide and then to accept a human trafficker’s offer to pay for passage to Europe.

“At a certain point I couldn’t bear all this suffering anymore,” Anthony said through tears. “When this man told me to leave the village, I immediately agreed.”

After arriving in Libya, Anthony and Chinonso paid human traffickers to take the risky boat trip across the Mediterranean to Italy, where they both sought asylum as members of a group – LGBTQ+ people – being persecuted in Nigeria. Under refugee standards, asylum seekers can be granted international protection if they are “members of a particular social group.”

However, the process is by no means easy, straightforward or guaranteed. Privacy concerns limit the types of sexual orientation questions migrants can be asked during the asylum interview process. Societal taboos and reluctance to openly identify as gay or transgender mean that some migrants may not immediately volunteer this information. Ignorance on the part of asylum interviewers about anti-gay laws in countries of origin can lead to unsuccessful applications, according to the EU asylum agency, which helps EU countries implement asylum standards.

Therefore, there is no comprehensive data available on how many migrants apply for or receive asylum in the EU for LGBTQ+ reasons. Based on estimates from NGOs working with potential refugees, the number in individual EU countries ranged from two to three in Poland in 2016, up to 500 in Finland between 2015 and 2017, and 80 in Italy, according to a 2017 report between 2012 and 2017 by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights.

An EU directive grants special protection to people at risk of sexual discrimination and requires “special procedural safeguards” in host countries. However, what these guarantees entail is not specified and implementation is inconsistent. As a result, LGBTQ+ asylum seekers do not always find a protected environment in the EU.

“We are talking about people who are unfortunately victims of a double stigma: being immigrants and at the same time being members of the LGBTQIA+ community,” said lawyer Marina De Stradis.

Even within Italy, options vary greatly from region to region, with the better-funded north offering more services than the less developed south. In the capital Rome, there are only ten beds specifically for LGBTQ+ migrants, said Antonella Ugirashebuja, an activist with the Arcigay association.

She said the lack of special protections often had a more negative impact on migrant women than on men and could be particularly dangerous for lesbians.

“Lesbians who leave Africa often or even more often end up in networks of prostitution and sexual exploitation because they lack the (economic) support of their families,” she said. “The family sees them as rejected, rejected people… Especially in countries where this is punishable by law.”

Anthony and Chinonso consider themselves lucky: They live with their dog Paddy in a well-kept apartment in Rieti and dream of starting a family, even though gay marriage is not allowed in Italy.

Chinonso, who studied medicine in Nigeria, is now a social and health worker. Anthony works at the deli counter in a Carrefour supermarket in Rome. She would have liked to have continued working as a film editor, but she is happy.

“It gave me the opportunity to grow,” she said.


AP journalist Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.

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