Activists urge U.S. to accept 500 LGBT Syrian refugees

The U.S.-based LGBTI asylum and refugee organization ORAM is pleading for the United States to reserve spaces for 500 LGBT refugees from Syria, since their lives are at high risk if they are forced to remain in their embattled country, beset by the murderously homophobic Islamic State.  The United States plans to accept 10,000 refugees from Syria, but has refused ORAM’s plea to set aside spaces for sexual minorities.

This is the press release from the Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration (ORAM):

ORAM Statement on News Report:
ISIS Executes 15-Year-Old Gay Teen

"Islamic State" logo
“Islamic State” logo

San Francisco, CA – Over the New Year’s holiday weekend, ARA News, an independent Syrian media outlet, reported that ISIS had executed a 15-year-old teen boy on charges of homosexuality by throwing him from the top of a building in central Deir ez-Zor.

Neil Grungras, Executive Director of the Organization for Refuge, Asylum, and Migration (ORAM), released the following statement [on Jan. 5] reacting to the reports:

“A few days ago, ISIS militants threw a Syrian teenage boy from a roof for being gay. While this news is media worthy, it is unfortunately not surprising. ISIS has already carried out 30 brutal public executions of suspected LGBTI people videotaped, photographed and distributed via the Internet. [The watchdog Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said the number of LGBTI people that ISIS has executed in Syria is at least 25. Others were executed by ISIS in Iraq.] Sexual and gender minorities (SGM) are in extreme danger in Syria and other hostile countries, and [sexual and gender minority] individuals often continue to be persecuted in the countries where they seek refuge. As refugees, most do not have access to the necessary resources or institutions they need to gain refugee status and be resettled.

ORAM logo
ORAM logo

“For this reason, ORAM has been urging the U.S. Government to set aside 500 of the 10,000 slots reserved to Syrians for LGBT refugees. To our disappointment, the White House rejected our petition, leaving little hope for [sexual and gender minority] individuals in Syria who dream of finding safety in America. Due to the difficulties of applying for refugee status as LGBTs and because the resources available to [sexual and gender minority] refugees are so scarce, many LGBT Syrians prefer to stay in Syria and hope they will not be discovered.

“LGBTI refugees’ access to refugee procedures and resettlement is crucial—it is the exact process that could have saved that 15-year-old’s life. While reserving 10,000 slots for Syrian refugees is honorable, it is not enough to help the most vulnerable refugees, including LGBTs, reach safety. The current system for those seeking refuge is failing sexual and gender minorities. We know that in order to save their lives, the refugee system needs to put out a helping hand specifically for [sexual and gender minority] refugees. We know how to do this. We can start saving lives today, and we have the moral responsibility to do so.”

In September 2015, ORAM and Grungras applauded President Obama’s call for the U.S. to embrace an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016.  At that time, ORAM called on the U.S. government to hold 500 of those additional slots for vulnerable LGBT refugees fleeing some of the most treacherous and likely fatal levels of persecution.  He has also penned a Opinion piece advocating this position.  Additionally, nearly 35,000 individuals signed onto a petition backing this call by ORAM to reserve 500 slots for LGBT refugees.

ORAM is an international non-profit organization devoted to capacity-building and advocacy on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers, including those fleeing persecution based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

ORAM has directly trained over 1,500 refugee professionals working in United Nations, government and community-based agencies in 14 countries, who have together assisted over a million refugees. Thousands of refugee and asylum workers around the world utilize ORAM’s tools and resources, which have benefited 5 million people in the past five years.



Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]


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