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What motivates us?

There are thousands of LGBTQ refugees around the world. In many countries homophobic persecution is on the rise, forcing many to flee.

  • 64 countries and jurisdictions around the world criminalize private, consensual, same-sex sexual activity.

  • In 12 jurisdictions the death penalty is on the books for private, consensual same-sex sexual activity. At least 6 countries still implement the death penalty – Iran, Northern Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Yemen – and the death penalty is a legal possibility in Afghanistan, Brunei, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar and UAE. 

  • There are many more countries in which the social persecution of LGBTQ people is rampant. Persecution can include: extreme bullying, extortion, blackmail, torture, rape, honour killing, and denial of work, education, housing or other basic needs.  

  • LGBTQ refugees are often at risk in the countries to which they have fled. Many host countries are themselves extremely homophobic and transphobic. Discrimination comes from governments, citizens, and even other refugees. 

  • Of the nearly 30 million refugees in today's world only a fraction are LGBTQ, but they are often in grave danger, even in the countries where they seek refuge. And they almost always lack traditional family support. 

  • Alone we cannot change the world. But the fact that we care can inspire change. One person at a time, we demonstrate our common humanity.

Map of countries that criminalize people belonging to sexual minorities.

Map of the 64 countries where sexual relations between people of the same sex are illegal. YELLOW countries have sodomy laws that are currently being challenged before local courts. Sri Lanka in PINK currently has a bill before its parliament to repeal its sodomy law. Indonesia in ORANGE has laws that criminalize homosexuality only in some subnational jurisdictions. All states in RED have nationwide sodomy laws and no known efforts to remove them. For more detail, go to the Human Rights Watch website.

Refugee Process for Persons Based on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE)

It is not an easy process to find a safe refuge if you are a persecuted sexual or gender minority person. It can take many years and you will have to face many difficult barriers for the chance to express yourself without fear. Here is a crash course in what SOGIE refugees have to go through in order to resettle in a safe country like Canada. For more information, see the Government of Canada website.


STEP 1: Self-awareness as a SOGIE person in environments of persecution


  • Many people in repressive countries are hindered from developing the insight, confidence or even the language to self-describe themselves as a SOGIE person. Words are often barriers to self-awareness and self-acceptance.

  • In all the major world languages words that are used to describe sexual and gender minority people often resonate with extremely negative meanings.

  • Family and broader social pressures to conform to sex assigned at birth and to participate in heterosexual life including marriage may result in submerged self-identity.

  • Without positive role models and supports, many people lack the confidence to identify as a sexual or gender minority person.

  • As stigmatized objects of senseless hate and vicious persecution, SOGIE persons may live in denial and self-loathing. They may experience shame, guilt, embarrassment.

  • Many who have come to terms with their gender or sexuality live in constant fear of being outed.

STEP 2: Learning that there are better options


  • Many SOGIE people suffer abuse in schools, and do not complete their education or have poor educational outcomes. Depending on the country, this may be disproportionally affect girls.

  • With a poor education it is difficult to learn about the refugee process.

  • It may be difficult to use text-based information sources about alternative options, such as the internet, especially if the source is English.

  • Many, probably most, persecuted persons are not aware of their right to seek refuge in another country.

  • When they learn that others have successfully escaped persecution and that a better life is possible, they realize there is hope and that they may have some options.

STEP 3: Getting out of one's home country


  • Leaving, however, is often very difficult.

  • Flight to a safe country requires knowledge, confidence, and usually money and a visa.

  • Many SOGIE people do not finish school because of severe bullying. Without an education they may never have the skills and financial resources to move to a safer country.

  • To break family ties is unthinkable to many. And no one readily chooses the inevitable risks, isolation and financial insecurity of being a refugee in a foreign country.

  • Some countries that persecute SOGIE people are surrounded by neighbours with equally repressive regimes. If suddenly faced with an urgent need to escape, persecuted SOGIE people have little choice but to cross the border into another homophobic country.

  • There are many homophobic and transphobic countries that are surrounded by similar countries where you cannot make a refugee claim based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.

STEP 4: Getting recognized as a refugee

  • If a person does manage to escape their country of origin, they may be able to seek asylum.

  • However, many countries do not recognize refugees based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. 

  • Many countries do not make it easy to be recognized as a refugee because they are concerned that doing so creates a "pull factor" to others who may follow.

  • Not everyone is successful in convincing the UNHCR or the country to which they have fled that they have a well-founded fear of persecution based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and that returning home is not an option.

  • Once they have fled to a second country, a person may not be allowed to work, attend school or language classes, or obtain secure housing.

  • Some turn to illegal labour or even prostitution just to survive.

  • It is not uncommon to experience continued stigmatization and persecution in the country to which one has fled.

STEP 5: Finding a permanent solution


  • Some countries to which SOGIE refugees flee, especially if they have educational and financial means, allow them to find a safe and permanent home.

  • However, many other countries will not allow them to permanently settle. Refugees may need to ask for permission to settle in a safe third country. The number of third-country resettlement opportunities has significantly decreased in the past few years, while the number of refugees, including SOGIE refugees, has greatly increased.

  • This scarcity creates huge challenges for the UNHCR, which must prioritize the limited opportunities among many people with the most urgent needs for resettlement.

  • It is for this reason that the private sponsoring of refugees, such as that provided through ROAR sponsorship groups, is so important to decrease the burden of suffering.

  • SOGIE refugees are very fortunate to be selected for resettlement by the UNHCR, or by the government of the secondary country to which you have fled, or by a private sponsorship group. But they often cannot themselves choose their permanent country of resettlement.


STEP 6: Waiting for a decision about resettlement 


  • If approved for resettlement in Canada, refugees apply and then wait for an interview with embassy staff. In a painfully long process, they are screened to make sure they meet the criteria for resettlement.

  • Refugees undergo medical, criminal and security checks. Not every person referred by the UNHCR is accepted for resettlement in Canada.

  • Refugees may wait a year, two years, or much longer until they are accepted into Canada. During this time they must try to find a way to live — not an easy task.

  • They may also need an exit visa from the country in which they are temporary residents. (In some countries, refugees may finally be denied the opportunity to leave, even after all this effort and waiting.)

  • At the end of their ordeal, if all goes well, refugees are informed that a flight has been arranged for them.  

STEP 7: Settling in Canada

  • When resettled refugees arrive in Canada they are given permanent resident status. They have reached safety. They are newcomers.

  • While many may be able to rely on the support of family and ethnocultural and religious organizations, most SOGIE newcomers are estranged from their family and are justifiably nervous about seeking support from groups that are frequently homophobic.

  • They have to start their lives all over again. They often don’t know anyone in Canada. The vast majority speak only rudimentary English or French. They need to find a place to live, get a job, and learn to speak, read and write, often with little help.

  • Getting health care, finding transportation, managing the weather, and dealing with all the intricate customs and rules of a foreign country: these are things we take for granted, but they are real, every-day challenges for many newcomers.

  • ROAR volunteers work very hard to smooth this transition process for our recently-arrived LGBTQ friends, to get them on their feet again, safe at last and living with dignity and pride in their new home, Canada.

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