Canada: True North for LGBTI Afghan Refugees

Alturi Project Strategist

While thousands of vulnerable Afghan refugees look to flee their homes, LGBTI refugees aren’t included by most countries as being vulnerable. Canada is a proud exception.

Canada’s history of providing protection and resettlement to vulnerable groups includes the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and two-spirit (LGBTQ2) community. The Government of Canada states, “We publicly and proactively encourage the sponsorship of refugees who face violence and persecution, including due to their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or HIV status.”

Canada leads with a perfect 10.0 sexual orientation gender identity legal index (SOGI-LI)

SOGI-LI ranks countries by the recognition and protection their laws offer LGBTI people. Canada ties five European countries with their high score. The United States lags behind many countries in the world with a score of 6.6, specifically lagging behind countries in the Americas including Canada, Uruguay, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, and Bolivia. Afghanistan has a score of 0.0. The 2017 Human Rights Report on Afghanistan paints a bleak picture for LGBTI people in Afghanistan. Not only are there struggles with lack of access to health care and the need for NGOs to remain hidden, but the report also states LGBTI people experience “discrimination, assault, rape and arrest by security forces and society at large.” It is clear that the situation in Afghanistan is dire, and the hope of the LGBTI Afghan Refugees rests in the hands of the countries with recognition, protection, and resettlement laws in place.

Canada declares they will allow LGBTI Afghan refugees to resettle

While the U.S. President, State Department and even the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has yet to specifically mention LGBTI Afghans as vulnerable, Canada bravely has. The Los Angeles Blade reports that The Canadian government “will allow up to 20,000 Afghans — including members of the LGBTQ community — to resettle in the country.” 

It is difficult to provide protection without recognition. Canada has led the Americas in providing the most inclusive recognition of all people with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE). In 2017, Canada passed gender identity bill C-16 which brought their federal law up to date with provincial laws. Specifically, it added the words “gender identity and expression” to the Canadian Human Rights Act. This recognition, along with Canada’s experience with resettlement of vulnerable LGBTQ2 people, offers hope to Afghan refugees who are not included in other countries’ consideration of vulnerability.  

Canadian-based Rainbow Railroad connects government with LGBTI refugees

Founded in 2006, Rainbow Railroad’s Mission is to “help persecuted LGBTQI+ individuals get to safety.” Since their inception, Rainbow Railroad has “helped over 1,600 LGBTQI+ individuals find safety through emergency relocation and other forms of assistance.” Time reports that Rainbow Railroad is actively preparing to help LGBTI Afghans “attempting to escape,” and the preparation includes collaboration with the Canadian Government. Kimahli Powell, the executive director of Rainbow Railroad, shares the preparation with Time: “The Canadian government has signaled LGBTQ persons as a vulnerable population. The next step for us is to understand the process by which the Canadian government is looking at resettling these individuals, offering our support and services to help identify individuals, and really ramping up our network and our processes by which we can safely identify individuals to refer.” 

For LGBTI Afghan refugees needing to get to safety, Canada is the true North for recognition, protection, and resettlement.

Joel Klausler, 26th June, 2021

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