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Insights: Human Rights Defenders Increasingly at Risk & Limited Pathways to Safety for At-Risk LGBTQI+ Persons

Insights: Human Rights Defenders Increasingly at Risk... Insights: Human Rights Defenders Increasingly at Risk...

We’re highlighting insights from our 2022 Annual Report, Understanding the State of Global LGBTQI+ Persecution. To read more of our insights, you can access the full report here.

Human Rights Defenders Increasingly at Risk

Human rights defenders (HRDs) often work in dangerous circumstances and, in some cases, are forced to flee themselves. HRDs work locally, trying to advocate for changes to the laws and policies that criminalize and persecute LGTBQI+ persons, and are sometimes targeted by state actors as a result of their work. 

Recognizing this, the Canadian government established a dedicated refugee stream for human rights defenders for resettlement to Canada, one of the only countries in the world to make this kind of pathway available. Rainbow Railroad advocated for the creation of this novel pathway since inception, and as one of the only organizations with the capacity to refer LGBTQI+ human rights defenders, we have had the opportunity to refer seven cases for relocation to Canada through the HRD stream. Due to the unpredictability of government crackdowns and other regional circumstances, we cannot always anticipate when it will be necessary for HRDs to leave their work and seek refuge in another country. A group of HRDs may emerge as needing urgent protection; to prepare for this possibility, our team closely monitors evolving threats to HRDs around the world. 

A significant number of our cases involve case work done by trusted individuals who have long-term relationships with Rainbow Railroad staff, including HRDs who share information to verify requests for help. We also draw on the technical expertise of our dedicated staff of caseworkers, including several human rights defender colleagues who have lived experience of forced migration and/or persecution based on their LGBTQI+ identities.

Limited Pathways to Safety for At-Risk LGBTQI+ Persons

In 2022, 4% of all requests for help that Rainbow Railroad received had no route to safety and limited options for support through other channels. Our capacity to provide support to at-risk LGBTQI+ persons is limited by geopolitical factors, such as contextual risks, legal restrictions, and a lack of passport mobility.

In 2021, we identified the top ten countries of nationality with the highest disparities between the number of requests we received and the number of individuals we were able to provide with Emergency Travel Support (ETS), where people are forced to remain due to barriers to movement. These countries were: Algeria, India, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Lebanon, Pakistan, Nigeria, Syria, Morocco, and Turkey. In 2022 data, two new countries appeared, Kenya and Jordan, replacing Somalia and Morocco. The replacement of Somalia and Morocco on this list is not because the situation has improved in either country, but because the situation in other countries has worsened – Somalia and Morocco still lack routes to safety.

  1. Syria
  2. Pakistan
  3. Iran
  4. Nigeria
  5. Lebanon
  6. Jordan
  7. Algeria
  8. Saudi Arabia
  9. India
  10. Kenya

Recognizing the systemic gaps that prevent at-risk LGBTQI+ individuals from relocating, Rainbow Railroad reaches those most in need through other channels, such as safehouses, partnerships, and advocacy work. For instance, requests from Nigerians increased by 30% in 2022 (288 total requests), and Rainbow Railroad supported local organizations that addressed basic needs, provided psychosocial and sexual health programming to individuals, as well as conducting human rights and advocacy work. Similarly, in Lebanon, Rainbow Railroad supported two organizations working on research and advocacy to identify gaps within support for the LGBTQI+ community in the country.

Rainbow Railroad continues to advocate for a direct referring partnership with governments, including the government of Canada and the government of the United States, to be able to prioritize providing routes directly to safety for those from these countries. 

To read more of our insights, you can access the full report here.