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An Overlooked Perspective of LGBT Refugee Support

『International Development Journal』 2019 December edition

LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) individuals are a well-known sexual minority group. In Africa, their exposure to discrimination and persecution is particularly acute. Many countries have imposed jail and death sentences for homosexual activities, and many have fled their countries and become refugees. What role should Japan’s aid stakeholders play in this issue, something that has been overlooked in conventional development cooperation?

“You are no longer my son.”

“When I was in a boarding school, I was spotted with my boyfriend. I was beaten and expelled from school. This story passed back to my hometown, and my neighbors came to my home. My father cried and said, ‘You are no longer my son. I do not want to see you anymore.’”
This 19-year-old gay man fled from Uganda to Malawi. He now lives in a shelter provided by the Munakata Foundation as part of support for sexual minorities. Nearly ten people, including him, live in the shelter. They are “LGBT refugees” who have been persecuted and fled to Malawi from neighboring countries.
There are many sexual minorities in the world, represented by people called LGBT. According to a survey conducted by Dentsu Diversity Lab in Japan in 2015, sexual minorities account for 7.6% of the population, which is about the same percentage as left-handed people. However, as discrimination against sexual minorities persists not only in Uganda but worldwide, including Japan, they live in fear of revealing their sexual orientation.

The root of persecution is the “sodomy law”

Nevertheless, the environment surrounding the world’s sexual minorities has been improving gradually since the beginning of the 2000s. Gay marriage was legalized in the Netherlands in December 2000, and many European countries have subsequently followed suit. Knowledge of sexual minorities in society has deepened compared to the past.
On the other hand, many countries in the Middle East and Africa continue to legally discriminate and persecute sexual minorities. A global map on sexual orientation (as of August 2018) created by Nijiiro Diversity, a consulting business that aims to create workplaces where sexual minorities can easily work, shows that homosexuals in eight countries, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan, have been sentenced to death for homosexual activity and have been sentenced to jail in numerous other African countries.
Many African nations have a strict attitude toward sexual minorities because of “sodomy laws” introduced by colonial powers that have not been repealed. It is a law that stipulates that certain sexual acts, such as homosexual acts, are crimes. At present, many European countries have abolished the law prohibiting homosexuality in the interest of human rights, but countries such as Malawi, Kenya, and Uganda still apply the law established by the United Kingdom.
In Kenya, a local LGBT group filed a lawsuit to overturn the sodomy law but lost in May 2019. In October 2019 in Uganda, the government announced legislation named “Kill the Gays.” The situation continues to deteriorate.

UNHCR encourages the resettlement of LGBT refugees

While the situation is unlikely to improve, the Munakata Foundation and Rainbow Refugee Connection Japan (RRCJ) continue to provide outreach to LGBT refugees. RRCJ provides financial assistance for resettlement of LGBT refugees evacuating to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, and Kakuma refugee camp in northwest Kenya. They also advise the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on refugee status.
Satomi Shimada, RRCJ Representative Director, says, “The LGBT refugees who have fled to Kenya first go to the UNHCR office and get a residence permit. RRCJ also gives advice on the accreditation of LGBT refugees. Once a refugee is recognized, and the host country accepts them, resettlement will take place.”
Canada and other Western countries are actively accepting LGBT refugees. Canada receives 50 African LGBT refugees annually, the UK receives 20, and Australia receives 10. However, there are currently 500 UNHCR-registered LGBT refugees. Resettlement is currently limited to a few people.

Japan should start accepting

To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to “leave no one behind,” we should eliminate discrimination and prejudice against LGBT. However, it is difficult for African countries alone to make progress, given that even Malawi and Kenya, where LGBT refugees have been temporarily evacuated to, are giving sentences for homosexuality. External assistance is needed, but there is little public assistance in this area, such as Official Development Assistance (ODA) from Japan, Europe, and the United States. According to Mana Tanaka, Chairperson of the Munakata Foundation, some private organizations, such as the Open Society Foundations established by George Soros, support LGBT in Africa. However, private organizations also struggle to raise funds. The Munakata Foundation has spent its limited capital, and RRCJ is funded by Shimada’s private funds and crowdfunding.

What should be done to raise interest in LGBT issues through development cooperation and ODA? “First, we need to create an environment where sexual minorities can come out,” Tanaka points out. With some sexual minorities working while hiding their sexual orientation, it is difficult to recognize the need for help unless stakeholders recognize the sexual minority as a “close neighbor.” Tanaka says, “To create an environment that makes it easy to come out, we need education and training. A lot of professionals are involved in international cooperation to help the disadvantaged and the needy, so if we talk about the current state of LGBT, there is a possibility that they will understand and accept it properly.”
In addition to ODA, Japan should become a resettlement destination for LGBT refugees. The Government of Japan has stated that it considers doubling the number of refugees to 60 per year beginning in 2020. But Shimada says, “This should be applied not only to refugees in Asia but also to LGBT refugees. UNHCR-certified LGBT refugees (mandate refugees) would be more acceptable.” This is because international organizations will cover travel expenses up to the third country, and even after mandate refugees come to Japan, they can receive the necessary support such as housing from the Foundation for the Welfare and Education of the Asian People.
Assistance for sexual minorities in developing countries has only begun at the private level and is insufficient. There are many sexual minorities hiding their sexual orientation, and it is difficult to visualize the problems they face. However, some cases have become apparent. Japan should keep its eyes on this fact and provide support to LGBT refugees. (Keitaro Fukushima)






ケニアではソドミー法を覆そうと現地のLGBT団体が裁判を起こしたが、今年5月に敗訴した。さらに、冒頭に登場したゲイ青年の出身地ウガンダでは今年10月、政府が「同性愛行為を死刑とする法律(Kill the Gays)の制定を目指す」と発表した。状況はむしろ悪くなっている。


状況の好転が見込めない中、LGBT難民に手を差し伸べているのが、先述の宗像協会と、(一社)Rainbow Refugee Connection Japan(RRCJ)だ。RRCJは、ケニアの首都ナイロビとケニア北西部にあるカクマ難民キャンプに避難するLGBT難民の第三国定住に向けた経済的支援を行っている。加えて、国連難民高等弁務官事務所(UNHCR)に対して、難民認定に関する助言を行っている。





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