Alaa Ammar fled Syria to escape not just civil war but also the threat of persecution as a gay man. Yet when he arrived in The Netherlands last spring, he did not find the safe haven he craved. He and four other gay travelers had to face newly arrived asylum seekers at a migrant center in the remote northern town of Ter Apel.
As reported by Fox News, Ammar said, “After five minutes, they started looking. After 10 minutes, they started to talk. After one hour, they came to us. After three hours, they started fighting with us.”
Across Europe, gay, lesbian and transgender migrants say they suffer from verbal, physical and sexual abuse in refugee shelters, and some have been forced to move out. The AP found out about scores of documented cases in The Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, with the abuse usually coming from fellow refugees and sometimes security staff and translators.
The cases suggest a possible cultural clash (gee, ya think?): Many migrants are coming from conservative Muslim countries where homosexuality is taboo into European societies that are more open to it. In Syria homosexuality is illegal. The militant Islamic State group has killed more than 30 gays in Syria and Iraq over the past two years, activists say.
The number of migrants accused of gay abuse are just a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming into Europe. However, most abuse is likely not reported because of European privacy laws and the stigma felt by gay migrants, and there is no official tally across the continent.
In Germany, the Lesbian and Gay Federation counted 106 cases of violence against homosexual and transgender refugees in the Berlin region from August through the end of January. Most of the cases came from refugee centers, and 13 included sexual abuse.
Charities and private shelter operators say they’ve simply been too overwhelmed by the huge influx of migrants to attend to some refugees’ special needs. Swarms of people often live in one big hall, without lockable rooms or gender-separated washrooms.
The German Red Cross said it had a code of conduct banning violence at its shelters (I’m sure that will work!). And the Arbeiterwohlfahrt, or Worker’s Welfare charity group, said it is trying to create safe spaces in new centers but cannot implement the highest standards it would like. “We’ve been somewhat overrun by reality,” said spokeswoman Mona Finder.
The situation for homosexual refugees is difficult all over Europe. In Spain, for example, two migrants from Cameroon and a third from Morocco were physically abused after their sexual orientation was discovered by others at shelters, according to the Pueblos Unidos nonprofit. The men now have asylum petitions pending before the Spanish government citing their homosexuality as a reason why they deserve refugee status, the nonprofit said.
In Sweden, a court sentenced an asylum seeker to five months in prison last summer for making death threats, along with spitting in the face and grabbing the throat of a fellow refugee in a center in Jonkoping. When the victim collapsed onto the floor, the attacker kicked him unconscious. Witnesses and a surveillance video backed the claims. The motive was the victim’s homosexuality. The attacker was “outraged that Sweden protects homosexuality and all should be killed by slaughtering,” according to court documents.
In Finland, cases of gay harassment and downright abuse have also been recorded at refugee centers, according to SETA, a nationwide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender group. As a result, some of the centers have separated a secure section for those afraid of sexual harassment.
Earlier this month, a Finnish court gave an asylum seeker a three-and-half-year prison sentence for raping another migrant man at a southern Finnish center. In Denmark, there have been at least 10 cases of harassment.
In the Netherlands, a Dutch human rights group reported earlier this month on regular abuse of gays and lesbians at a large camp that can house up to 3,000 asylum seekers near the city of Nijmegen.
Read the whole story here.