The world is filled with conflict, causing many people from various nations to be forcibly displaced every day. Each year, thousands flee due to fear of persecution because of their race, religion, political affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity, war, among many other issues. At the end of 2022, the UN found a record high 108.4 million people had been forced to flee their homes (UNHCR, 2023).
Over the past five years, the Child Welfare Immigration Centre of Excellence (CWICE) has led the way on many issues facing children, youth, and families within the child welfare system, and intersecting immigration and settlement sector. In recognition of June being Pride month, and to acknowledge World Refugee Day, this article seeks to highlight the work of those who support 2SLGBTQ+ individuals experiencing persecution around the world and seeking asylum.
The Canadian government recently announced a partnership with Rainbow Railroad (June 2023). This international organization assists at-risk 2SLGBTQ+ individuals get to safety and find protection. According to the United Nations, approximately 77 countries have discriminatory laws that criminalize consensual same-sex relationships. In addition, individuals may be punished by imprisonment, and in at least 5 countries, they may face the death penalty.
For example, in May 2023, the Ugandan government signed into law the “Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2023.” In response, on May 29, 2023, The Honourable Melanie Joly, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs issued a statement expressing concerns for this new Act and condemned the Ugandan legislation. The statement reads, in part:
“The reversal of human rights that this law represents is deeply concerning and we are disturbed by the heinous forms of violence it legalizes against a segment of Uganda’s population, only because of who they are and who they love. Canada unequivocally opposes the use of the death penalty in all cases, everywhere. This form of punishment is incompatible with international human rights laws and human dignity.”
June is recognized as international Pride month. World Refugee Day is also commemorated yearly on June 20th. This year’s theme is “hope away from home”. The collaboration between Rainbow Railroad and the Government of Canada is fitting, because it offers a glimmer of hope to 2SLGBTQ+ refugees fleeing persecution and seeking protection worldwide.
Since its inception, the Rainbow Railroad has helped almost 10,000 individuals. Through this new-found partnership with the Canadian government, individuals who are fleeing persecution due to their sexual orientation and gender identity will now be able to resettle in Canada through the Government-Assisted Refugee Program (GARS).
Most often persons fleeing persecution, based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, need to arrive in Canada and then begin the process of making a claim to seek asylum. As part of the process of seeking asylum in Canada, an individual would need to provide evidence that they faced persecution in their home country due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. In some countries, obtaining this documentation can be difficult and sometimes impossible. As a Government Assisted Refugee, 2SLGBTQ+ individuals can now be referred for re-settlement in Canada by Rainbow Railroad, making the process more seamless and providing quicker access to services. Currently, the only other international organization which can refer refugees for resettlement in Canada is the UNHCR and so this is seen as an important step in Canada’s humanitarian leadership globally.
In our work in CWICE, we continue to build partnerships with organizations across Canada, and seek new relationships that enable us to provide a holistic approach in servicing the growing needs of children and youth with unresolved immigration status. In the course of our work, we sometimes support 2SLGBTQ+ individuals, and recognize they face additional challenges when interacting with various systems. This upcoming addition to Canada’s resettlement program will undoubtedly assist many individuals find safety in Canada. For more information on the services that Rainbow Railroad provides, please visit their website www.rainbowrailroad.org
About the Authors:
Celistine Frampton is a Child Protection Worker and Immigration Specialist at Peel Children’s Aid Society in the Child Welfare Immigration Centre of Excellence. Celistine holds a diploma in Journalism and a Bachelors of Social Work Degree. She has a passion for writing, research and advocacy work.
Fatima Mukai is a Child Protection Worker and Immigration Specialist at Peel CAS’ Child Welfare Immigration Centre of Excellence. Fatima joined Peel CAS in 2017, as a specialized ongoing worker, with a team dedicated to servicing families and children experiencing immigration and settlement issues. Fatima has over 20 years of experience, working with vulnerable families, and has been an immigration specialist in CWICE since 2020.