On March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and as of May 2020 the world is well into a global health crisis, with over 4 million cases worldwide and over 270,000 deaths.
While we know that this is a devastating pandemic, much remains unclear. We do not know how many people will be infected or how long the pandemic will last. However, we do know that those who are most marginalized will be disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, including members of the LGBTQI community.
For Rainbow Railroad, the situation is made more complicated as countries around the world adopt sweeping measures, including full lockdowns, imposing travel restrictions and temporarily sealing borders to contain the virus.
The fact remains is that we know that COVID-19 threatens to dismantle health-care systems in many of the countries that criminalize same-sex intimacy. Unfortunately, we also know that in some countries, leaders will use the pandemic to target the LGBTQI community.
We’re already seeing it in Uganda. Under the guise of lockdown restrictions, authorities raided an LGBTQI shelter and arrested 23 people on March 29. We know for certain they were arrested under false pretenses, and they are still being detained.
We are also seeing examples of leaders blaming COVID-19 on the LGBTQI community
Since the pandemic took a foothold we have conducted a deep dive into our programmatic offerings in order to assess opportunities and challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. While helping an individual find a pathway to safety that includes relocation to a safer country remains a primary objective, we have been building a suite of complementary methods to ensure that someone can find alternative pathways to safety. As COVID-19 has temporarily closed borders, we will utilize these complementary methods until travel becomes possible. We have been steadfast in building this program with rigor, thorough research, creative brainstorming and building on our partnerships on the ground.
Our Strategic Plan has been essential in guiding our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We were already implementing changes stemming from the plan, which called on us to diversify how we assist queer and trans folks in need. These changes include expanding organizational referrals, providing greater access to information, providing individualized support and emergency in-country relocation.
Understanding how COVID-19 is impacting the populations we serve has been a first step in Rainbow Railroad's response to the pandemic. To that end, we have published a report called "The Impact of COVID-19 on Displaced LGBTQI Persons." Drawing on the research work of partner organizations, interviews with human rights defenders around the world and our work experience, the report concludes with four recommendations to policy-makers. An executive summary is available here.
We continue to stand in solidarity with and advocate for internally displaced persons, people awaiting resettlement and asylum seekers who have been impacted by tightening border restrictions and worsening conditions as a result of COVID-19. We are calling on governments everywhere to uphold Article 14 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to seek asylum. We stand in solidarity with UNHCR’s statement that COVID-19 should not close avenues to asylum
Rainbow Railroad’s Executive Director, Kimahli Powell addresses the current COVID-19 pandemic.
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