|Photo Courtesy: JFCS|
“In all cases, I wish we could have done more for these LGBTI refugees, you know… how can we help this person survive, how can we help them get on their feet, become independent and self-sufficient?” – Wade’s voice sank low
Last week, in this blog post, we spoke about the importance of language support and clear communication for the immigrant diaspora in the United States. This week, as we approach World Refugee Day, we decide to look into the struggles faced by different marginalized refugee groups. In our quest to learn the insider’s perspectives, we talked to our partner organizations who are serving these groups. We come across startling stories of people who were running away not only from politically unstable countries but also from their own families who refused to accept their identity.
As an LGBTI Refugee Services Coordinator at the Jewish Family and Community Services East Bay (JFCS East Bay), Wade is one of the few angels who are helping refugees of sexual and gender minorities find a safe haven in the United States. Our conversation shed light on the harrowing experiences that LGBTI individuals face in their native as well as asylum-seeking countries.
Escaping broken layers of trust
According to the Organization for Refugee, Asylum and Migration (ORAM), LGBTI people are among the most persecuted individuals in the world today. Seventy-eight nations criminalize same-sex relations. Seven of these apply the death penalty for consensual same-sex conduct. In many more countries, sexual and gender minorities regularly face harassment, arrest, interrogation, torture and beatings.
The United States is the largest refugee resettlement country in the world, admitting approximately two-thirds of all refugee resettlement referrals worldwide each year. ORAM estimates that while over 175 million LGBTI people live under conditions of peril or violence worldwide, fewer than 2,500 a year are accorded asylum or refugee protection based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. However, as fear of lack of acceptance prevails, many LGBTI refugees would not self-identify. As such, the actual figures are likely to be much higher.
Building trust on a fragile foundation
“There are layers of trust being broken in their life experience so we don’t expect our LGBTI refugees to automatically trust us” – Wade shares from his experience working with these refugees
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that LGBTI persons fleeing persecution face a complex array of challenges and threats at all stages of displacement. These include discrimination, prejudice, violence, difficulty accessing humanitarian services, and barriers to articulating their protection needs during asylum procedures and other interactions with protection and humanitarian actors.
“If you’re an LGBTI refugee, it means that the country and the culture you’re coming from has rejected you and, for all of the refugees here, have committed violence against you”
As such, even when they are in the US, these refugees find it extremely difficult to trust anyone with their actual identity. Most refugees are connected to or supported by communities of their native countries. However, for LGBTI members, they hesitate to even trust people from their own cultures.
“There are people who don’t trust us; they have had enough negative experience in their life. There are also people who are forced to trust us because we are the only agency supporting them”
As many of the most vulnerable LGBTI refugees know very little English, it is very important for agencies like JFCS to have strong language support so that they can communicate expectations clearly. Moreover, the person who are bridging the language gap must also be able to understand and empathize with the experiences of these refugees. These are key building blocks to lay the foundation of trust.
When Ladon Team received a request for language support from JFCS, we immediately asked for an LGBTI glossary. We also looked at the profile of our language assistants to identify the ones that could handle the special communication nuances. They learnt new terms from the LGBTI glossaries with ease. Our team will cover these extraordinary language assistants in other posts – stay tuned.
Bridging Language and Cultural Barriers
“There are certainly great English Language programs for refugees, but when someone is so distracted with the resettlement process, it’s not the optimal time for them to learn a language”
Resettlement agencies like JFCS are responsible for providing initial reception and placement services in the first 30 to 90 days after the refugees arrive, which includes finding safe and affordable housing and providing a variety of services to promote early self-sufficiency and cultural adjustment.
Though most agencies try and recruit bilingual staff workers, it is often challenging to find people who have a good grasp of both English and other languages such Farsi or Arabic. More often than not, housing hosts and support volunteers have to rely on Google Translate, which can barely translate complex arenas of communication and cultural nuances. That’s why Ladon Language Hotline is powered with human. We know that only a team of compassionate people would go the extra mile to bridge language and cultural barriers.
Facing isolation, alone
“You know, for you, you could trust your family because they take care of you. But often, for these LGBTI refugees, their families have tried to kick them out of their home or even kill them..”
When we were planning for this article, one of the titles we thought of was “A home away from home”. However, after this conversation with Wade, we realized that a safe new “home” is a luxurious concept. Afterall, have these individuals experienced the comfort of home as most of us know it?
Most LGBTI individuals are bereft from their families who refused to accept them or protect them. Unlike other refugees, many LGBTI individuals often arrive in the country alone; many are dealing with the traumatic effects of violence, torture, and rape. Starting out all alone in a new country can be emotionally and mentally straining. The relationship they form with their host, volunteers, or service coordinators like Wade might be the closest to family.
Journey for survival
“In all cases, I wish we could have done more for these LGBTI refugees, you know… how can we help this person survive, how can we help them get on their feet, become independent & self-sufficient?”
While fleeing their native countries, these individuals also leave behind their schools and careers, which in fact may have been interrupted because of the persecution. It is tough to survive on the small compensation provided by each county, especially in the Bay Area where housing and transportation are expensive. Even for those who know English, it isn’t easy to find employment.
Ninety days is a very short amount of time to get back on their feet and navigate themselves independently in a completely new environment. The journey is even tougher for someone who is not proficient in English. Since many refugees come from countries like Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and other Middle Eastern and African countries, communicating in English is a tremendous challenge. Being dependent on the competence of translators makes them vulnerable to miscommunication. Moreover, there’s also a cultural barriers that they need to overcome. Steering through these financial and cultural constraints can be quite a task.
Our conversation with Wade left us wondering how Ladon Language Team could leverage our language proficiency to make a real difference to the LGBTI community. So here were are: Ladon is glad to start working hand in hand with Jewish Family and Community Services East Bay in supporting LGBTI individuals with language support. This journey towards a safe haven isn’t an easy one. Each step matters, each brick is a building block of a future that can be secured only when like-minded individuals fight against the evils of isolating political forces to unite mankind. After all, the bigger question is, what kind of world do we want to leave behind for our children?
Access UNHCR Training package on the protection of LGBTI persons in forced displacement here.
Do you need special support with Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese or Arabic? Visit Ladon Language Team website www.Ladon.us or contact us here