Not everywhere is it equally safe for people who are LGBTI+. Some countries violate their human rights. In some places, sex that is not between a man and a woman is forbidden. In other places, it is legally okay, but people still have a lot of prejudices. That, too, can be dangerous. Not every country can or wants to protect the LGBTI+ people who live there.
You know someone who lives abroad and feels unsafe. Your friend is persecuted or threatened because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. You want to do something to help. What can you do? Where do you start? What should you know before you seek help?
It is important to keep in mind that every situation, every country, and every person is different. It may be that two people from the same country have two different approaches. Your friend that feels unsafe is the best judge of the situation. Listen to their story. Ask what an appropriate solution for them would be. Don't assume you know their situation. Don't think you know what someone else needs. You can guide someone in their search for safety, but not decide what they should do in their place.
Your friend is an LGBTI+ activist or a human rights defender. Their plan is to stay in their own country (for the time being). People can be more at risk because of their activism. That is why there are organisations that help activists to protect themselves better.
Protection International and Front Line Defenders offer practical tools and strategies for activists who want to increase their safety. Protection International has Protection Desks in a number of countries. Front Line Defenders has an emergency hotline and a practical workbook about safety. ILGA-Europe has had a 'Dignity for All' programme since December 2012. The programme offers emergency funds and guidance for human rights defenders in need. In addition to these resources, human rights organisations and associations for LGBT+ people are active in many countries. You can find these organisations via ILGA: the worldwide umbrella organisation of LGBT+ associations.
ORAM specialises in the protection of exceptionally vulnerable refugees, including LGBTI refugees. On their website you can find general information about applying for asylum. In addition, they offer an overview of organizations and support groups in the area that help people leave their country.
In Belgium, it is possible to apply for asylum on the basis of your sexual orientation or gender identity. Someone who is persecuted in their country because of their sexual orientation or gender identity can make use of this possibility. If your friend decides to flee their country, they may possibly be granted asylum in Belgium.
Attention! Filing an asylum application and being granted asylum is not that easy. Because of European agreements, someone cannot simply choose in which country they apply for asylum. These European agreements are called the Dublin Regulation. More information about the Dublin regulation can be found on the website of Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen. Please also keep in mind that not everyone receives recognition as a refugee and an asylum procedure can be demanding. The majority of asylum applications in Belgium are rejected. Unfortunately, these rejections are sometimes based on stereotypical assessments by the case handlers. If your case gets rejected, you can submit a new application. More information about this can be found in the brochure 'Code 207 No Show'. In the report I'nternationale bescherming van holebi’s in België' (International protection for LGBT+ people on the run) by Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen. This report is currently only available in Dutch.
How do you ensure that your friend has as much chance as possible for a positive outcome? Be prepared. From the start of the asylum procedure, contact organisations and lawyers who have previously guided LGBTI+ asylum seekers. Get legal advice on asylum for LGBTI+ people from Vluchtelingwerk Vlaanderen’s Refugee Information Hotline. Gathering information about the situation of LGBTI+ people in the country your friend wants to flee can also certainly be useful. Gather as much information as possible and start as early as possible. As soon as possible, provide the asylum authorities with all documents that can show why your friend wanted to flee their country. Are you stuck with questions for a specific case? You can also contact the helpdesk of the Integratie and Inburgering (Integration) agency.