“On the occasion of this year’s International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, I call on all member states to pay attention to the situation of LGBTI people who are either still in Ukraine or are fleeing the war, so that their vulnerability and needs are fully taken into account in the human rights and humanitarian response”, said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović.
Alongside their fellow compatriots, Ukrainian LGBTI people are suffering the consequences of this horrific war. Some have taken up arms, some have become internally displaced, some are active in responding to the humanitarian crisis, and others still decided to leave to seek refuge in other countries. But as stressed in a statement published yesterday by the United Nations Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and other human rights experts, in times of war and displacement LGBTI people are even more vulnerable than in peacetime.
LGBTI human rights defenders have drawn my attention to the specific vulnerability of LGBTI people caught in the war in Ukraine. Dedicated shelters have been set up by local LGBTI NGOs for internally displaced LGBTI people to help protect them from discrimination, prejudice and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity, which pre-existed the war. They should have access to adequate resources. An immediate concern relates to the shortages in medication required by some LGBTI people in Ukraine, including hormones for trans people, medication for intersex people and antiretroviral medication. In the course of my recent visit to Ukraine, I was also informed that some transgender persons are experiencing difficulties in leaving the country. For example, this is the case for several transgender women who are blocked in Ukraine because they have not completed the legal gender recognition process and consequently the gender markers in their identity documents remain male at a time when all men between 18 and 60 are required by martial law to stay in Ukraine. More generally, the authorities both in Ukraine and bordering countries should pay attention to the specific vulnerability of transgender people who need to leave the country so that they can do so safely.
I am also concerned about LGBTI people in territories where combat is taking place, that are occupied, or otherwise not controlled by the government in Ukraine. I have previously received information that hate against LGBTI people is particularly widespread and encouraged there.
According to the information collected by my Office on recent monitoring missions to countries neighbouring Ukraine, it is mainly local and international LGBTI NGOs in those countries that have stepped up to address the specific needs of LGBTI people arriving from Ukraine. They help ensuring safe accommodation by matching refugees with LGBTI-friendly hosts, provide information about legal status and access to health care, facilitate psychosocial support at community centres, as well as onward transportation for those who need it. LGBTI Ukrainian refugees are confronted with several challenges. This includes a lack of access to specific healthcare for transgender and intersex people in countries where such medication is already in short supply or access is subject to burdensome requirements. Gaps in treatment can have very dire consequences. Same-sex partners fleeing Ukraine also face difficulties related to the fact that their status as couples or families is not recognised, either in Ukraine or in some of the neighbouring countries. Problems are already arising for non-Ukrainian partners in securing family reunification or access to temporary protection. Access to accommodation and employment will also require attention, especially given the negative climate and policies toward LGBTI people in a number of countries where Ukrainian people are seeking safety.
I also call on member states to take into consideration the situation of LGBTI people from Russia, Belarus and other countries who had sought refuge in Ukraine and who may not be able to safely return to their countries of origin. More LGBTI people may be seeking to leave Russia in the coming weeks, given the worsening of their human rights situation there. As I stressed in a human rights comment on LGBTI asylum-seekers in Europe, it is imperative that member states recognise in their national laws that the fear of persecution based on sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics is a valid ground for the granting of refugee status in line with the 1951 Refugee Convention. They should also recognise that specific forms of treatment or discrimination often faced by LGBTI persons can amount to persecution, and firmly reject the idea that they can be expected to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity to escape human rights violations. Finally, urgent steps must be taken to address stereotyping and a ’culture of disbelief’ in asylum procedures, to enhance early identification of vulnerabilities, and to protect LGBTI persons from violence, harassment, isolation and discrimination in reception facilities.
I salute the extraordinary mobilisation of LGBTI activists and NGOs, both in Ukraine and in other European countries, in support of LGBTI people affected by the war in Ukraine. I urge all humanitarian actors to ensure that LGBTI people in Ukraine are not left behind when distributing basic humanitarian and medical assistance. I also welcome the extraordinary solidarity shown by many European countries welcoming Ukrainian refugees and I encourage them to identify the specific needs of LGBTI people arriving on their territories and to ensure that the legal framework and actual delivery of humanitarian assistance address such needs.