Advocating for governments to create more pathways to safety for LGBTQI+ refugees has always been an essential part of our work. Governments have the power to help LGBTQI+ people seeking safety, and therefore, Rainbow Railroad consistently calls on governments to take action.
Because of the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to LGBTQI+ rights at home and abroad, and the United States’ capacity to resettle LGBTQI+ refugees domestically, Rainbow Railroad has been pressing the U.S. government since 2020 to make changes to laws and policies that would allow for more LGBTQI+ people to resettle in the United States.
A key recommendation we have made since this administration has come into office has been to allow Rainbow Railroad and other LGBTQI+ civil society organizations the ability to directly refer vulnerable LGBTQI+ refugees to the U.S. government for resettlement.
Why Direct Referral is Important
LGBTQI+ people who have fled their home country and are living in what we refer to as a “transit country” must be referred to the government of a safer country in order to be resettled as a refugee. An embassy, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or a designated non-governmental organization can make this referral. A referral is what gives an LGBTQI+ person the chance of being resettled in a safer country.
But, LGBTQI+ people face systemic barriers to attaining this referral. Limitations in access to refugee status determination services, violence and harassment in refugee camp settings and a lack of trauma-informed approaches to working with survivors prevent LGBTQI+ people from accessing traditional refugee assistance in transit countries.
This is where Rainbow Railroad can play an essential role in identifying LGBTQI+ people in critical need of resettlement. Many of our staff are members of the LGBTQI+ community, and because we are embedded in an extensive network of civil society defenders across the globe, we have a unique ability to locate, verify, and triage LGBTQI+ people in need of resettlement.
Rainbow Railroad is the leading international non-profit organization in safe relocation of LGBTQI+ persons globally. Last year alone, we supported more than 4,500 people through emergency travel and other programming.
Referral Status Has the Potential to Create a “Highway to Safety”
Designating Rainbow Railroad and other LGBTQI+ civil society organizations as referral partners has the potential to vastly increase the number of people Rainbow Railroad can resettle in the United States. Such a partnership would leverage Rainbow Railroad’s expertise at identifying, verifying, and triaging the most extreme cases of persecution while streamlining the process for refugee status determination for those in need.
The U.S. government has recently announced a new program called Welcome Corps, which allows for U.S. citizens to sponsor refugees who relocate to the United States. Rainbow Railroad was proud to be a consultative partner in the development of this new program. Sponsors – ordinary American citizens – commit to providing emotional, financial, and integration support for a designated period of time in order to help a newcomer adjust to life in the United States. This program has the potential to resettle thousands of LGBTQI+ refugees in the United States, and making Rainbow Railroad an official referral partner will only help more LGBTQI+ people at-risk.
As Welcome Corps is built, we are calling on the Biden-Harris administration to officially designate Rainbow Railroad a referral partner of the program. This partnership would have the potential to create a highway to safety for LGBTQI+ people in the United States; bringing together the on-the-ground expertise of Rainbow Railroad, the vast legal power of the U.S. government, and the generosity of ordinary American citizens.
What comes next and how can I help?
In the coming months, we’ll continue to advocate to the U.S. government to make Rainbow Railroad a full referral partner for the Welcome Corps program, in addition to making Rainbow Railroad a referral partner for the traditional refugee stream (something we’ve been calling for since 2021).
You can learn more about why we’re calling for the ability to directly refer refugees to the U.S. government as well as a full accounting of our specific policy asks in this memo to U.S. policy makers.
At the same time, we are building a database of U.S. citizens who are interested in becoming sponsors of LGBTQI+ refugees through the Welcome Corps program. You can learn more and register your interest in becoming a sponsor here.