Human Rights First co-hosted a congressional briefing Wednesday examining the administration’s recent executive order targeting refugees and its impact on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals. Organized in partnership with Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO), the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, and the Human Rights Campaign, the event brought together experts and members of the LGBT community – some of whom fled persecution in countries named in the immigration ban – to examine the impact of the president’s action on LGBT refugees and explore ways that the United States can help them.
The executive order, which is currently not in effect following a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on February 9, bars nationals from seven majority-Muslim countries for a minimum of 90 days, suspends the refugee resettlement program for a minimum of 120 days, indefinitely bans refugees who have fled Syria, and reduces refugee admissions by 60,000. The order offers exemptions for religious minorities for resettlement, but omits any mention of refugees persecuted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The administration indicated this week that it will soon issue a new immigration/refugee executive order that accomplishes much of what the previous order did, but will address “technical issues” brought up by the Ninth Circuit.
“Barring LGBT people from these seven countries creates an additional burden and makes them increasingly under threat to violent acts,” said Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord. “LGBT refugees already face heightened risks based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. They are vulnerable to violence during the entire resettlement process and may have additional challenges as they adjust to their new lives after resettlement. They are isolated and this order only prolongs their separation from a supportive community.”
Often persecuted in their home countries and without the ability to rely on familial support or support from their native communities when they are repatriated, LGBT refugees face risks that other refugees do not. Human Rights First urges Trump to reject any calls to deny protections to vulnerable populations, including LGBT refugees.
Wednesday’s hearing featured analysis by Human Rights First’s Jennifer Quigley, Ayaz Shalal, an Iraqi activist from the Rasan Organization, Arsham Parsi, an Iranian refugee living in Canada representing the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees, Samia Bhatti, a transgender refugee from Pakistan, and Mona Siam, a Jordanian refugee living in Washington, D.C. The event was moderated by Ty Cobb from Human Rights Campaign.
“As a refugee who experienced what it’s like to flee persecution for my sexual orientation, I can say that this travel ban is bad for refugees and it is bad for America,” said Siam. “I fear that members of my community in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, and Libya will face further violence the longer this ban is a threat.”
The world is facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II, with over 60 million people displaced. Over 4.8 million Syrians have fled their country due to conflict and persecution, and 7.6 million are displaced within Syria in need of humanitarian assistance. Human Rights First’s report “The Syrian Refugee Crisis and the Need for U.S. Leadership” details how many of these refugees have been stranded for years in neighboring countries where they cannot work or support their families, have little access to education, and lack the level of humanitarian assistance they need. Frontline states and key U.S. allies including Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan continue to host the majority of the nearly 5 million refugees who have fled Syria, struggling under the strain of hosting so many refugees.