Refugees what churches can do...


“The basic idea of welcoming immigrants to our shores is central to our way of life — it is in our DNA. We believe our diversity, our differences, when joined together by a common set of ideals, makes us stronger, makes us more creative, makes us different. From all these different strands, we make something new here in America.”

~President Barack Obama, July 4, 2014

Trauma Alert: Violence and Sexual Violence Stories

“Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender,
and Intersex (LGBTI) Individuals face discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity and, in many countries, consensual same-sex acts are criminalized. These individuals may be targeted, harassed, hurt, or even killed in their home countries or country of refuge. PRM [The bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration] works with UNHCR and NGOs to train staff on issues specific to displaced LGBTI populations, funds targeted protection and assistance programs, supports ongoing research, and ensures that LGBTI refugees resettled in the United States receive appropriate services and support,” reports The United States Department of State. However, as the borders have closed over the past four years, it has become more challenging to find refugee status in the United States.

Isolated and brutalized, criminalized by governments, shunned by families, and ostracized within the community at large, LGBT refugees and asylum-seekers are often denied asylum because their persecution is difficult to prove. To claim refugee status, they often have to come out even when coming out means prosecution if their case for asylum is denied.

“To be granted asylum, queer refugees need to prove to immigration authorities and judiciaries that they are queer, that they fear persecution on the grounds of their sexuality, and that such fear is well-founded,” reported (In)credibly Queer: Sexuality-based Asylum in the European Union in 2015. While their study focused on the experiences of refugees who found asylum in the European Union, the stories from the refugees regarding the risks within the world’s immigration systems are universal.

Throughout Latin America, Africa and Asia, LGBT people are denied basic protections under the law and are frequently subjected to violence, arrest, imprisonment and even death.

In recent decades, LGBT refugees and asylum-seekers have journeyed to the United States seeking sanctuary from the discrimination and violence they encounter in their country-of-origin. ONA churches can join with other congregations, non-profit organizations and the LGBT community in their towns and cities to sponsor asylum-seekers and to raise awareness about their lives. Additionally, churches can respond to those who have been detained after asking for asylum at the nation’s southern border.

LGBT refugees, asylees and asylum-seekers are among the most vulnerable people in the United States today. Unlike most people who flee their homes for safety, these individuals are rarely supported by their extended families or fellow expatriates. Because of their nonconforming sexual orientation or gender identity, they are often excluded from the religious and immigrant communities that form the social safety net for most newly arrived refugees and asylees. Most churches will not help them. Without a support network, LGBT refugees struggle to find their way through a complex maze of employment, housing and social service systems.

In 2011, the UCC’s General Synod adopted this resolution on international LGBT human rights. It’s a good resource for your congregation to begin learning about the unique issues that face those who seek asylum.

Why Asylum Matters (2020)

Protect LGBT Asylum Seekers (2020)

Escaping Anti-LGBTQ Violence (2020)

Persecution in U.S. Custody (2019)

LGBTQ Asylum Seekers


“When I got asylum it was amazing. I felt protected, like in the future I will have a place to call home. Coming here has allowed me to realize my full potential… and saved me from suicide. Refugees are some of the strongest people. Not only did they survive the country they came from, but they have the courage to learn the process, to speak up, to pursue.”

~ Lesbian refugee Alena Sandimirova, Russia

We are LGBTQ Refugees (2018)

Mike’s Story

from Asylum Access

“They all told me that I needed to change, that something was wrong with me.

Mike and his partner, Tom, come from a country where homosexuality is punishable by law and sexual minorities are stigmatized by society.

In our country we had to keep our relationship a secret and it was difficult to hide such a big part of ourselves,” Mike said. “I became depressed and even went to speak to different psychologists, but this made it worse. They all told me that I needed to change, that something was wrong with me.

Mike began receiving threatening messages when Tom’s family, that had ties with an extremist group, discovered their relationship. Tom’s family also forbade him from leaving his home.

Around that time, many gay men were being arrested in the cafes and bars that we would often go to. We were so scared and it became practically impossible to see each other.

That’s when we decided to flee the country. We chose Malaysia because it was easy for us to get tourist visas, but once our visas expired, life in Malaysia became difficult.

LGBT refugeesGoing to Malaysia served to protect Mike and Tom from continued persecution in their home country, but it is not an easy place for sexual minorities. In fact, same-sex relations are punishable by up to 20 years in prison, and enforcement of these laws is often accompanied by physical and sexual abuse.

Even in Malaysia, Tom and I have to keep our relationship a secret. We live in an area where a lot of people from our country live and I constantly worry that someone will find out that we are a couple.

Malaysia, like Thailand, is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and has no domestic legislation governing refugees. Urban refugees in Malaysia do not have access to safe and lawful employment, formal education and equal protection of the law. They are at constant risk of arrest, detention and exploitation.

Even though we both work very hard, we struggle to earn enough money to support ourselves. Tom works long hours in a restaurant and I work in a shop. To make things worse, I’m often stopped by traffic police and they force me to pay them bribes and threaten to send me to immigration detention.

Launched in 2014, Asylum Access Malaysia’s (AAM) refugee legal aid program assists refugees to navigate the UNHCR process. AAM also offers workshops to provide basic legal and practical information to help refugees.

A year ago, a friend told me about AAM and encouraged me to go there. I didn’t know much about UNHCR and thought refugees were only people who had fled from war.

At first, I wasn’t sure I could trust my lawyer, but she was friendly and professional. I could tell she wasn’t judging me and could understand my situation. 

My lawyer helped me explain this and all my other problems to UNHCR and she even came along to our interviews. She helped us understand how my situation made me a refugee and how applying for protection could help us. Having our lawyer there made us more confident and relaxed.

My lawyer also asked for our case to be fast- tracked. Now we’re in the resettlement pipeline and hope to move to a country where we can openly be together.

AAM is transforming the human rights landscape for refugees in Malaysia through direct legal services, Know-Your-Options trainings, and engagement with UNHCR and other stakeholders in Malaysia’s refugee rights movement.”

The Rainbow Railroad

helps LGBT people escape state-sponsored violence.