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A growing number of LGBTQ+ migrants are seeking safety in Europe

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Lesbian Ella Anthony is happy that she was granted asylum in Italy. In her native Nigeria, she risked a long prison sentence – or even the death penalty because she lives out her sexual orientation. Today she works in a grocery store in Rome. Photo: Alessandra Tarantino / AP / NTB

Of NTB | 23.05.2024 06:09:35

Crime and justice: Anthony lived in a violent forced marriage. When she managed to run away from her husband, she experienced no support from her relatives. On the contrary, they threatened to label her as a lesbian.

Nigeria is one of several countries that have criminalized same-sex relationships. Anthony fled from a possible prison sentence and went with his girlfriend Doris Ezuruike Chinonso to Libya in 2014. The final destination was Italy, where they were both granted asylum, precisely because they had a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country.

The vast majority, the hundreds of thousands of migrants who arrive in Italy from Africa and the Middle East, are fleeing war, conflict and poverty. But a growing number who choose to make the dangerous journey are people who are persecuted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, rights groups say.

Based on estimates reported by voluntary organisations, the figures in the individual EU countries varied greatly. The practice of how EU countries or regions welcome queers also varies widely.

However, voluntary organizations that follow the development state that they see an increasing number of queer people asking for protection. They believe the increase is due to several countries adopting or tightening laws against LGBTQ+ people.

The situation for LGBTQ+ people worldwide has in recent years been characterized by both progress and setbacks. Some countries have recently adopted new, tougher laws against homosexuality, such as Uganda. Figures from last year show that there are over 60 countries worldwide that have anti-LGBTQ+ laws. Most of these countries are located in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia.

He is the executive director of the rights group Rainbow Railroad, which provides financial, legal and other support to LGBTQ+ people who need assistance in obtaining asylum.

Around 1,500 of the requests came from people who had fled Uganda, which last year passed an anti-homosexuality law punishable by the death penalty or up to 14 years in prison.

Lawyer Marina De Stradis says that women are often more vulnerable than men.

– Lesbians who leave Africa often, or more often, end up as victims of human trafficking, where they are exploited for prostitution. The reason is that many lesbians lack financial support from their families. This particularly applies in countries where homosexuality is a criminal offence, she says.

In Nigeria, where some regions practice Sharia law, homosexuality has been banned since 2013. LGBTQ+ people face up to 14 years in prison or the death penalty.

– Life in Italy is not quite what we wanted, but let’s say it is 80 per cent better than in Nigeria, says Chinonso.

– In Nigeria, people like us risk prison – if you’re lucky. Otherwise you will be killed, she adds.

Most European countries do not keep statistics on the number of migrants who seek asylum as a result of their sexual orientation. Privacy concerns limit questions about sexual orientation during the interview process to obtain asylum, and social taboos also prevent many migrants from openly talking about their orientation.

– We received around 15,000 requests for help last year, which was up from around 9,500 the year before, says Kimahli Powell.

Anthony and Chinonso consider themselves lucky: They live in a nice apartment in Rieti, north of Rome. They have the dog Paddy and dream of starting a family even though Italy does not allow gay marriage.

(© NTB)

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