Position paper
Policy brief
Published on
June 20, 2023

World Refugee Day 2023: The Fight of the LGBTQI Community


Fleeing persecution and discrimination, too often even death, many LGBTQI people and youth around the world are left with no other choice but to embark on a challenging quest for safety, acceptance, and freedom. Escaping oppressive laws and societal attitudes that deny them basic human rights, risking their lives in the migration process, being exposed to criminalisation, violence, harassment, exploitation, trafficking, and a constant state of fear… These are only a fraction of the challenges LGBTQI refugees are faced with.

In this IGLYO article for World Refugee Day 2023 (20 June), our Board Members Spyros Boviatsis (he/him, Greece) and Yassine Chagh (he/they, Cyprus) are delving into the struggles and challenges faced by LGBTQI refugees and providing potential ways to work towards fostering positive change and creating a more inclusive and equitable environment for LGBTQI refugees. By bringing attention to these critical issues, we hope to inspire action, foster empathy, and drive meaningful change.

Persecution and Discrimination 

According to the ILGA World Database,  as of 2023, consensual same-sex acts are illegal in 64 UN states. Across these countries, criminalisation takes many forms: imprisonment, fines, flogging, forced psychiatric treatment, forced labour, and, in many cases, death penalty. 

Of course, laws are not independent from society: they reflect certain cultural and societal values while at the same time having an undeniable "educational" character by stating what should and can be accepted. This does not mean that countries without criminalising laws are a safe haven for LGBTQI people, on a social and political level; violence, harassment and undermining of basic human rights are often part of the lives of LGBTQI people around the world. However, the stakes, the needs as well as the protection mechanisms can be very different.

LGBTQI people in states criminalising consensual same-sex acts and gender non-conformity usually "have two options”: either hiding integral parts of their identities, or being objected to cruel behaviours, in case someone finds out or even assumes their sexual and/or gender identity. The psychological, emotional and physical toll is extremely high.

Potential ways to address the matter

  • Development and monitoring of binding policies from the UN to the member states, ensuring that national laws align with international human rights standards, as well as training for states' authorities.
  • Provide financial and logistical support to local LGBTQI organisations and activists working in countries with discriminatory laws. By supporting their work, governments, international organisations, and individuals can help strengthen the voices of LGBTQI communities and contribute to positive social change. This can include funding for capacity-building initiatives, legal aid programmes, and awareness campaigns to challenge societal prejudices and promote acceptance.

Forced Migration and Displacement 

LGBTQI people are usually unable to find support within their families of origin, which in many occasions will take certain steps to "cure" not only their LGBTQI kin, but also the family’s "honour". The agency of the LGBTQI is completely removed: they are being forced (among other things) to marriages, monitored isolation, corrective rapes, physical and financial violence, blackmailing, and exploitation. 

In case this reaches the legal authorities, they are subjected to the aforementioned national laws, often forced to disclose their partners' names in order to get "lighter'' sentences and penalties, and they end up with a life that is completely devalued by the rest of society. Knowing this, it only makes sense that LGBTQI people want to flee their countries, hoping for a better future.

The Geneva Convention of 1951 was the first document to describe who is a refugee and what are their rights. The first article states that a "refugee" is a person that has 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 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 or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.

As people who are members of a "particular social group", LGBTQI people are recognised as vulnerable and verified to seek protection in another country.

However, the existence of conventions and inclusive legislations does not necessarily mean the smooth transition from their home countries to the host countries. In order to flee their countries, they have to reach out to people who may exploit them financially and sexually. LGBTQI people usually are transferred with other (non-LGBTQI) people who may be homophobic and transphobic as well, while trafficking always remains a threat. 

Potential ways to address the matter:

  • International collaboration to develop safe networks that support people who need to flee their countries.
  • Collaboration between Governments, NGOs, and International Agencies in order to create international services that support victims of gender-based violence and abuse.
  • Apply pressure on governments and local authorities to follow signed policies and conventions while respecting the rights and well-being of asylum seekers and refugees.

Challenges in the Asylum Processes 

In addition to the Geneva Convention of 1951, there are other texts that provide a solid basis for ensuring the rights of LGBTQI people as well as refugees and asylum seekers, such as the European Convention on Human Rights (1953) and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (2000) (among others). However, it must be said that in many cases, these texts are not enough, as national procedures dictate the context of the asylum process. 

During this process, LGBTQI people may be subjected to humiliating and degrading questions about their sexual practices, which they should describe in detail, otherwise they risk not being perceived as truthful. On many occasions, the asylum process for LGBTQI people is based on stereotypes of what an LGBTQI person should be through Western-centred lenses, which limits the ability of the asylum seeker to narrate their true experience and needs. 

LGBTQI asylum seekers may also find it challenging to speak about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity when an unknown interpreter from their community is there, as this risks the outing of the asylum seeker to their community, both in the host and home countries. Furthermore, for some countries, a crucial part of the asylum process is the list of "Safe Countries of Origin", which is a list of countries that are considered ‘safe’ by the host country. Occasionally, these lists become the ground for quick rejection of the asylum application of LGBTQI people due to the perceived ‘safety’ of their countries by the national authorities. Additionally, two of the main problems with these lists are that their context is stagnant and they include countries that may not be safe for LGBTQI people on a legal, social and/or political level.

Until the final decision comes from the asylum service, the applicant has limited documentation and rights within the host country which may lead to precarity and easily exploitable vulnerability. After that, if an LGBTQI person manages to get the refugee status, they may face difficulties in regards to health, accommodation, documentation, employability, and relationship with their ethnic community in the host country. In general, host countries do not have an effective plan that can support and include refugees, and that is why the survival of the person depends heavily on their personal responsibility and struggles. Due to this situation, people are expected to "integrate" on their own while surviving precarity, racism, homophobia and/or transphobia.

Potential ways to address the matter:

  • Promote continuous awareness towards and training for asylum workers regarding sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and variations of sex characteristics.
  • Examine each case by taking into account the legislative, social and political context, without assuming that a seemingly good climate in one of them means safety for the applicant
  • Develop effective integration plans for LGBTQI people that are centred around their agency and needs.

Health and Well-being

LGBTQI refugees face unique challenges when it comes to their physical and mental health. Many of them experience discrimination, violence, and persecution in their home countries, which can lead to severe psychological trauma. Additionally, the lack of access to healthcare services further exacerbates their difficulties.

Transgender and gender non-conforming people  may struggle to access gender-affirming treatments, such as hormone therapy or gender-confirming surgeries due to financial limitations and/or a lack of access to healthcare services. Similarly, LGBTQI refugees living with HIV/AIDS may face obstacles in obtaining proper medical attention and support.

More than that, discrimination, isolation, and the trauma of fleeing their home countries can have a significant impact on the overall well-being of LGBTQI refugees. The fear of rejection and the absence of social support networks contribute to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and self-harm ideation among LGBTQI refugees. It is crucial to recognise these challenges and prioritise the provision of inclusive and culturally sensitive healthcare services for LGBTQI refugees.

In an article on Mental illness and resilience among sexual and gender minority refugees and asylum seekers by the British Journal of General Practice 2019, it was written the following:

Common mental health problems reported in these studies included depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicidality, and alcohol and substance misuse issues. The prevalence of depression in LGBTQI refugees and asylum seekers communities ranged from 76.0–93.0%, and anxiety ranged from 28.0–60.0%... Compared to non-LGBTQI refugees and asylum seekers populations, these rates are considerably higher, suggesting that having multiple minority identities has a cumulative impact on the prevalence of mental illness in this population.” 

Potential ways to address the matter:

  • Increase access to specialised healthcare services for LGBTQI refugees, including gender-affirming treatments, HIV/AIDS care, and mental health support.
  • Implement culturally sensitive and inclusive healthcare policies and training programs for healthcare providers.
  • Establish support networks and safe spaces where LGBTQI refugees can access peer support and counselling services.

Social Isolation and Integration

LGBTQI refugees face significant hurdles in finding acceptance and building support networks in their host countries. These challenges are exacerbated by negative stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding refugees. Host communities may hold preconceived notions that view refugees as "opportunity takers'' or burdens on society, overlooking their potential as skilled contributors and decision-makers. 

These stereotypes make the social integration process even more complex, particularly for LGBTQI refugees who already face multiple layers of discrimination.  Furthermore, they may also encounter racism within the LGBTQI community of the host country, further complicating their journey towards acceptance and support. 

Additionally, refugees may also navigate the complexities of their intersecting identities, such as language barriers, cultural differences, and religious stigmatisation, which further hinder their ability to connect with local communities and access resources that could facilitate their integration.

In a conversation with UNHCR (2022), Yeraldine, a gay activist, stated, “I want people to see beyond the symbols – beyond the rainbow flag and the LGBTQI acronym – and recognize that we are human beings… and we want to help and to belong.” 

Potential ways to address the matter:

  • Foster inclusive policies and programmes that promote acceptance and integration of LGBTQI refugees.
  • Provide language assistance and cultural sensitivity training to facilitate communication and understanding between LGBTQI refugees and their host communities.
  • Support community organisations that offer social activities, mentorship programmes, and networking opportunities for LGBTQI refugees to connect with local support networks

Advocacy and Support

Local and international LGBTQI organisations, alongside dedicated activists, play a crucial role in advocating for the rights and well-being of LGBTQI refugees. These organisations tirelessly raise awareness about the challenges faced by this vulnerable population and work towards their inclusion and protection. 

Some organisations offer various initiatives to support LGBTQI refugees, such as legal assistance to navigate complex immigration processes, advocacy for their rights within host countries, and ensure their safety and security. They also create safe spaces where refugees can access psychosocial support, share their experiences, and find solace among individuals who understand their struggles.

Potential ways to address the matter:

  • Increase funding and resources for local and international LGBTQI organisations that advocate for the rights and well-being of LGBTQI refugees.
  • Enhance legal assistance programs to help LGBTQI refugees navigate immigration processes and protect their rights.
  • Promote awareness and engagement with LGBTQI organisations through donations, volunteering, and sharing information about their initiatives.


In his book 'The Struggle for Recognition' (1992), Axel Honneth argues that people construct their identities through three stages of recognition: the recognition in the private sphere (through love of others, which creates self-confidence), the recognition in the legal sphere (through rights, which creates self-respect) and the recognition in the social sphere (through solidarity, which creates self-esteem). A disruption of the recognition in one of these spheres can be crucial to the self-actualisation of the individual. For LGBTQI refugees recognition is extremely challenging as they have to navigate adversities in every sphere and hostility in every community they belong to.

It is our duty, as LGBTQI people, to stand in solidarity with our LGBTQI displaced kin, to amplify their voices, to ensure their agency and rights, to advocate for their expressed needs, and to fight for the kind of recognition they deserve.


This article was written by IGLYO Board MembersSpyros Boviatsis (he/him, Greece) and Yassine Chagh (he/they, Cyprus).

This is an IGLYO resource

Know more about who we are

This is a resource from
IGLYO member

Know more about this member

This resource comes from

Check out their website

We have plenty more resources !

Dive into our ever-growing resources library for insightful publications, articles, learning modules, and audiovisual content from IGLYO, our Members, and the global LGBTQI community.

Check out all our resources