Since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban on August 15, 2021, LGBTQI+ people in Afghanistan have faced severe persecution, including physical assaults, sexual violence and reported unlawful killings. Rainbow Railroad has received a deluge of requests from people in Afghanistan facing severe repression.
No Safe Way Out: Human Rights violations Against LGBTQI+ People Under the Taliban is a research report based on 1,739 requests for help submitted to Rainbow Railroad from August 2021 to August 2022, by Afghans who were in Afghanistan at the time they made their request.
According to individuals who have reached out to Rainbow Railroad for help, the Taliban is targeting LGBTQI+ people due to their sexual orientation, gender identity, expression, or sex characteristics. Individual accounts included in this report detail multiple tactics used by the Taliban to identify and find LGBTQI+ people, including identifying them from social media photos or videos, during searches of belongings and cellphones at checkpoints, and through emboldening community members to surveil and report on LGBTQI+ people. The report details how individuals are encouraged to report on their own friends, colleagues and family members if they are suspected of being LGBTQI+, or risk facing punishment themselves.
A number of LGBTQI+ people reported being beaten and subject to physical violence by the Taliban inside and outside of detention settings, including in their homes during unlawful searches, or in public places to ‘make an example’ of members of the LGBTQI+ community. Rape and sexual violence were mentioned in many requests for help, including sexual assault by family, community members, and members of the Taliban themselves in an environment of impunity.
The UNHCR estimates 3.5 million people internally displaced due to conflict, along with 2.3 million refugees and asylum seekers who crossed an international border. A significant gap remains between the commitments that governments made to resettle Afghan refugees and the refugees who have been relocated. Governments with ambitious refugee commitments have yet to fulfill them, while others pledged to admit only small numbers of refugees and emphasized the importance of migration control.
LGBTQI+ people in Afghanistan are being threatened, beaten, raped, and detained by the Taliban. Governments and humanitarian agencies should take all measures to protect LGBTQI+ Afghans, through ensuring safe access to humanitarian assistance, creating pressure and incentives for the Taliban authorities and through creating new resettlement pathways for LGBTQI+ Afghans to find safety, protection, and durable solutions. No one should be persecuted for saying: I am Afghan, and I am LGBTQI+.
In light of the findings of this report, Rainbow Railroad has issued a series of recommendations:
To the Taliban
- Ensure humanitarian access and protected space for aid organizations in all parts of the country to provide services and support for the LGBTQI+ community, including public health services and services for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence;
- End violence by security officers, including at checkpoints and in door-to-door searches;
- Repeal all provisions in the 2018 penal code and Ministry of Vice and Virtue manual that criminalize consensual sexual relations, including same-sex relations, and recognize the rights of LGBTQI+ people;
- Prohibit discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity, expression, or sex characteristics and ensure justice, compensation, and social services for people who experience discrimination or abuse.
To the Canadian government
- Create a formal partnership with Rainbow Railroad to support the identification, processing, referral and resettlement of LGBTQI+ asylum seekers facing extreme persecution based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics.
- Introduce a dedicated stream and a crisis response plan for LGBTQI+ asylum seekers, including those who have not undergone UNHCR refugee status determination, in partnership with Canadian LGBTQI+ civil society organizations.
- Expand pathways to permanent safety for internally displaced persons and human rights defenders, including through extending the Afghan human rights defender stream and increasing the number of slots.
- Prioritize resettlement of LGBTQI+ asylum seekers and expand existing policy mechanisms designed for those facing imminent danger to their lives. For instance, expand the Urgent Protection Program (UPP), which expedites resettlement of individuals who require immediate life-saving action, to apply to internally displaced persons.
To the U.S. government
- Increase refugee admissions to the U.S. for LGBTQI+ populations given their unique vulnerabilities and direct U.S. embassies to provide referrals to U.S. refugee admissions for LGBTQI+ people who need protection but are unable to leave their country of origin.
- Grant LGBTQI+ refugee organizations like Rainbow Railroad formal referral partnership status to support and refer LGBTQI+ cases as Priority 1 (P-1) referrals for consideration for U.S. refugee admissions and provide training for assessing LGBTQI+ refugee claims, including assessing credibility.
- Allocate additional funding to the U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration to provide training for LGBTQI+ organizations like Rainbow Railroad to provide P-1 referrals to U.S. embassies overseas, and provide training for U.S. consulate staff, caseworkers, and translators on non-discrimination and assessing the credibility of LGBTQI+ refugee cases.
To countries bordering Afghanistan and regional states hosting refugees
- Safeguard access to asylum and refugee status determination processes for Afghans who are fleeing persecution, including for those arriving at the border without documentation, and halt deportations of Afghans.
- Facilitate and ensure access to exit visas for Afghans with pathways to third countries.
- Support the work of civil society organizations to assist LGBTQI+ Afghan refugees, ensuring that they do not face interference with their work.
- Ensure protection and safety for LGBTQI+ Afghans, and prohibit discrimination or violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity for all LGBTQI+ people.
- Repeal any laws criminalizing consensual same-sex intimacy.
To concerned governments with capacity to receive refugees and provide aid
- Recognize LGBTQI+ Afghans as prima facie refugees, considering the extreme risk of persecution in Afghanistan, and expedite their applications for evacuation and resettlement.
- Grant LGBTQI+ refugee organizations, like Rainbow Railroad, formal refugee referral partnership status to support and refer LGBTQI+ cases directly to the relevant government ministry for immigration and refugees due to their unique insights and experience in protecting LGBTQI+ persons globally;
- Follow UNHCR guidelines on adjudication of asylum claims for LGBTQI+ Afghans, including recognition that LGBTQI+ individuals may be forced to marry under duress or may have had to hide their sexual orientation and gender identity in order to survive, and work with LGBTQI+ organizations on training and standards for identifying and vetting LGBTQI+ refugee claims.
- Ensure that financial support for humanitarian organizations is conditioned on their commitment to queer-sensitive and gender-sensitive programming, nondiscrimination, and inclusion of LGBTQI+ beneficiaries.
- Engage with LGBTQI+ civil society organizations, informal groupings of LGBTQI+ people, and LGBTQI+ community leaders to hear their concerns and to raise them with the de facto authorities in Afghanistan.
To the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
- Urgently prioritize refugee status determination for LGBTQI+ Afghans, especially for those who are in countries that do not protect LGBTQI+ rights or criminalize same sex intimacy, and advocate with governments regarding their resettlement commitments.
- Ensure that UNHCR staff and implementing partners conduct all interviews and processing in a gender-sensitive and trauma-informed manner, in a safe and confidential space, with respect for the rights of LGBTQI+ people.
To humanitarian and human rights organizations providing assistance to Afghans
- Conduct LGBTQI+ sensitization training for frontline workers to ensure a welcoming and safe environment for people from gender minorities to access services, especially regarding anonymization measures.
- Ensure that delivery of humanitarian assistance is carried out in ways that LGBTIQ people can safely access it, for example through mobile services so that LGBTQI+ people do not need to travel through checkpoints to reach point of service.
- Ensure that LGBTQI+ sensitive services are incorporated into referral pathways, including for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.
- Include LGBTQI+ people in human rights and humanitarian assessments and field research.
You can read the full report below. You can also download it directly here.