Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Asylum Seekers and Refugees in the Global Compact for Refugees.

In the past year, we’ve seen a reinvigorated commitment of the world to improve the refugee protection regime. It has manifested itself in the New York Declaration and the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) that are intended to be a paradigm shift in our treatment of refugees.

I have been privileged to be a part of the gender audit team working to ensure that the final text of the Global Compact on Refugees is gender sensitive. Using my personal and professional experience,  I’ve been advocating for the inclusion and recognition of diversity into the GCR. 

What is diversity?

Recognising diversity of the refugee community means meeting their specific needs, affording them required protections and treating them equally with dignity and respect.

Recognising diversity means understanding that people who sought asylum are a homogenous group. We are women and men, girls and boys, some of us identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex, some of us are younger and some are older, we all come from different religions, backgrounds and parts of the world. And while we all united in our fight for justice and freedom, until there is time to acknowledge the intersectionality of our identities, experiences and needs, we will be dying whether literary being denied essential services and protections or subjectively being misrecognised and silenced for who we are.

I have been working to ensure that LGBTI persons in forced displacement are recognised in the Global Compact on Refugees. There are 2 ways to do it. Firstly,  by using exmplicit language, in other words, specifically mentioning ‘LGBTI persons’ in the document. This is a preferred action. Alternatively, agreeing on the common language, that when we say ‘diversity’ or ‘persons with specific needs’, we all mean that LGBTI persons are included and recognised.

The UNHCR Emergency Handbook identifies LGBTI persons in forced displacement as persons with specific needs: “[…] girls and boys at risk, including unaccompanied and separated children, persons with serious health conditions, persons with special legal or physical protection needs, single women, women-headed households, older persons, persons with disabilities, and persons with a diverse sexual orientation or gender identity.”[1]

Recognition of diversity in the GCR

When the zero draft of the GCR came out, diversity was mentioned there once.  I’ve done an analysis of the draft suggesting strengthening language to explicitly include LGBTI persons into the draft.

Read the analysis of the zero draft here.

I am happy to report that there are now three very meaningful and game-changing additions to the First Draft of the Global Compact on Refugees. They are:

    • Para 25. The platform could support the development of a country or region-specific compact that articulates a set of mutual commitments between cooperating States and other stakeholders.  This would include follow-up arrangements and reporting on progress, including from an age, gender, and diversity perspective.
    • Para 40. To support evidence-based responses, States and relevant stakeholders will: promote the development of common standards for the collection, analysis, and dissemination of age, gender and diversity disaggregated data on refugees, returnees, in line with relevant data protection policies.
    • Para 54. UNHCR will also, as appropriate:  provide guidance to adapt processes so that they are gender, diversity, and child-sensitive;

These have been very positive shifts towards the meaningful inclusion and recognition of diversity in the Global Compact on Refugees. Yet there is still potential to make the language on diversity stronger in the final text.

Read the analysis of the first draft here.

Australia’s record in upholding and promoting the equal human rights for LGBTI people sets an example and needs to be used effectively during the negotiations on the Global Compact on Refugees.

It is vital that Australia works with other UN member states towards including explicit language on the required protections for LGBTI persons in forced displacement. Alternatively, it is imperative that the definition of the persons with specific needs and/or diversity in both the Global Compact on Refugees and the Program of Action explicitly includes LGBTI persons in forced displacement either in the text or footnotes.

The inclusion of the explicit language on the protections for LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees to the Global Compact on Refugee will ensure that their rights to safety and dignity are respected so they can live the life in freedom free from violence.

[1] UNHCR Emergency Handbook https://emergency.unhcr.org/entry/124731/identifying-persons-with-specific-needs-pwsn