ORAM: Providing LGBT-Friendly Support for Refugees from Africa and the Middle East

Refugee

“They traveled deep into far-flung regions of their own country and in some cases clear across the continent. Thus the Great Migration had more in common with the vast movements of refugees from famine, war, and genocide in other parts of the world, where oppressed people, whether fleeing twenty-first-century Darfur or nineteenth-century Ireland, go great distances, journey across rivers, desserts, and oceans or as far as it takes to reach safety with the hope that life will be better wherever they land.”
― Isabel WilkersonThe Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration

Feeling alone is an emotion that every human being can relate to–whether you’re a straight American guy, or a lesbian from Uganda.

Imagine being transplanted to an entirely new world, where you know no one, have barely any money or social services, and have to navigate a completely different language and culture. You want to have some sense of security, some sense of home, so you reach out to other refugees. But even in this new place, this new safe-zone, you experience rejection, based only on the fact that you’re, well, you.

International law defines a refugee as a person, “owing to 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 or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

Based on this definition, LGBT persons tend to be the academic example for designated refugee status based upon their “membership to a particular social group.” Incidentally, the majority of LGBT refugees flee to Western countries from the Middle East or Africa. Unfortunately, efforts to support refugees don’t always take into account the many prejudices LGBT people face.

For instance, because the the term “membership of a particular social group” is so broad, and does not specifically mention LGBT persons, countries with homophobic leaders and policies can easily reject LGBT refugee claims. Ironically, refugees are sometimes even denied by gay-friendly countries because they do not seem gay enough. Moreover, even when a queer refugee is given a safe home in a developed (or “first world”) country, the prevalence of homophobia can make providing them with a support system via other refugee and diaspora communities present in that region challenging.

As such, many LGBT people of color and diaspora who experience life-threatening circumstances in their home countries end up fleeing to western countries just to face the same kind of discrimination from refugee communities, and on top of that, racism, xenophobia, and other forms of oppression due to their immigrant/refugee status. The good news is that one organization is working to change all that.

Founded in San Francisco in 2008, ORAM is the first migration organization focusing exclusively on refugees fleeing sexual and gender-based violence worldwide, providing clients with free legal representation and conducts advocacy and education on their behalf. According to their site:

Because of the unfamiliarity or lack of education dealing with LGBT refugees, many staff members of organizations working to help refugees “may not know what questions to ask or how to ask them,” when trying to make a determination regarding an individual’s refugee status. “In some cases, they may ask questions that are sexually-explicit, invasive or simply irrelevant.

ORAM recognizes that traditional organizations dedicated to helping refugees may not have the resources, education, or desire to deal with the specific needs that LGBT refugees require. The organization creates training programs for other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to learn about the distinct requirements of those fleeing persecution based on their sexual or gender identity.

Find out how you can support their work by visiting ORAM’s website, here.

  • Victoria McCarroll

    I’m so pleased to find out about this organization. The way refugees are often treated is so very problematic, and I’m glad to see someone stepping up to address the unique needs of LGBT refugees.