Double Refugees: LGBTQ Syrians Escaping War and Homophobia
While nations around the world celebrated LGBTQ Pride Month in June, Turkish authorities banned Istanbul Pride Parade for the fourth year in a row. Despite the ban, thousands gathered in Istanbul’s Taksim Square to celebrate. In videos from the event, LGBTQ activists carrying rainbow flags are seen fleeing from tear gas and police officers with dogs.
LGBTQ activists in Turkey are facing a new battle - protecting an increasing number of Syrian LGBTQ refugees.
In the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) controlled areas of Syria, gay and bisexual men face unprecedented levels of violence and persecution. Under ISIL, same-sex activity is considered a capital offense. Brutal executions such as stonings, beheadings, and being thrown from tall buildings are common. In one particularly horrific incident, ISIL authorities threw a 15-year-old Syrian boy off a building for homosexuality. It’s currently unknown how many LGBTQ people have been executed by ISIL but Outright Action International puts the number at approximately 90.
Since 2011, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that 3.5 million Syrian refugees have poured into Turkey. Among those officially registered, 400 identify as LGBTQ. In reality, the number is likely much larger. Potential LGBTQ Syrians may fear persecution and as a result, keep their LGBTQ status concealed. Although same-sex relationships are legal in Turkey, the LGBTQ community receives no legal protection and anti-LGBTQ hate crimes often go unpunished.
Even after fleeing war, LGBTQ Syrians in Turkey find themselves in a vulnerable and precarious situation not faced by other refugees. While many refugees resettle as a family, LGBTQ Syrian refugees are more likely to arrive in Turkey without the support of family. Lacking connections to a larger community, many LGBTQ Syrian refugees fall through society’s cracks.
Unfortunately, LGBTQ Syrian refugees receive stigma from both Turkish citizens and other Syrian refugees. LGBTQ Syrian refugees report horrifying violence including sexual assault and even beheadings in Turkey. Discrimination and violence so pervasive that rights’ groups have coined the term ‘double refugees’ to describe refugees fleeing both war and anti-LGBTQ discrimination in their home countries.
With the Supreme Court’s recent upholding of the Muslim ban and a recent refusal of some Turkish provinces to register new Syrian refugees, the situation in Turkey is growing even darker for LGBTQ refugees.
In order to help LGBTQ Syrians, Americans must advocate for a full overturn of the Muslim ban. Since the beginning of the civil war, the United States has granted thousands of Syrians asylum, however, in 2018 the number of Syrians receiving U.S. asylum plummeted to approximately 11. For the LGBTQ Syrian refugees awaiting a new home with legal protections, these numbers simply are not enough.