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Queer Asylum History: Forced Displacement and Statelessness

For a queer person, seeking asylum means having the right to be free from persecution, discrimination and violence. It’s like finding Neverland.

Let’s start with talking about the LGBTQIA+ rights and issues in five North African states, Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia. In five of these countries many queer people leave to seek asylum because they lack legal protections and recognition.

While some of these states inherited strict laws against homosexuality from the French or British colonial systems of justice, in other laws against same-sex sexual relations or transgender and non-conforming gender expression derive from a state-sanctioned interpretation of sharia “Islamic law”. As a result many regional governments reject the concepts of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” altogether.

Despite suffering repression and social stigma, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender LGBTQIA+ people in the Middle East and North Africa are finding ways to speak out. They are telling their stories, building alliances, networking across borders, developing national and regional movements, and finding creative ways to combat homophobia and transphobia.

Faced with official intransigence some activists choose to work outside state structures, their activism focuses on community-building and attitudinal change. Others have taken on their governments, successfully pushing for incremental change in various forms.

Lebanon and Tunisia state institutions have accepted calls to end forced anal examinations, after pressure from local and international activists as well as treaty bodies. Iraq has committed to address violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity violence. In Lebanon courts have rejected an interpretation of “unnatural offenses” as including same-sex sexual acts, although the relevant court cases have not created binding legal precedent.

While some countries in the North African arabic-speaking region have laws or constitutional provisions that prohibit discrimination, none expressly prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. This means those who are victims of discrimination because they are LGBTQIA+ have no access to legal recourse.

In Algeria the law punishes same sex activity with between two months and two years’ imprisonment, and a fine of 500 to 2000 Dinars. It refers to “outrage to public decency” consisting of “an act against nature with an individual of the same sex”, with a steeper penalty of between six months and three years’ imprisonment and a fine of between 1,000 and 10,000 Dinars.

In recent decades, the number of queer people seeking asylum has risen, many experiencing forced displacements and statelessness, with most qualifying as “members of a particular social group” under the 1951 Refugee Convention.

The convention defines the term “refugee”, outlines their rights and sets out the legal obligations of states to protect them. Currently the UNHCR are working on trying to protect all LGBTQIA+ refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced and stateless people. In working with partners to provide inclusive services, protect their rights and identify with safe options.

I will end in saying this to you, dear reader, in celebration of LGBTQIA+ History Month it should help us not complicate the notion of homophobia as generated in culture and as produced only within the boundaries of a nation.

It is important to think about the politics of encounter that operate within and beyond national borders, particularly in a world shaped by postcolonial relations. In my one opinion this is a double move, of externalising homophobia on one side and homosexuality on the other, shows that the culturalisation of homophobia and homosexuality has multiple roots and that it occurs far beyond the national and world level.

Everyone in the LGBTQIA+ community is human like everyone else, we have rights, and we will defend those rights.