Gay Refugees Face Death Threats, Abuse In Netherlands

Dutch MPs this week passed a bill to create a separate place to house gay refugees

Refugees queue at a temporary shelter. — (AFP/Getty Images)
Mar 03, 2016 at 1:32 PM ET

The Dutch parliament is calling on the country’s government to offer emergency housing for gay refugees, who for months have been subject to death threats, intimidation and other forms of harassment at temporary shelters, LGBT activists say.

Members of parliament voted in favor of a motion earlier this week, requesting that the government “provide the possibility of separate and safe housing for LGBT and other vulnerable groups, if noted that their security can’t be guaranteed,” in a bill written in Dutch.

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Philip Tijsma, public affairs manager at an LGBT rights organization called COC Netherlands, called the motion a breakthrough. It calls for exactly what the refugees facing abuse asked for: a safe place, he told Vocativ. “We say punish perpetrators, educate people, but in emergency situations, there needs to be a facility for people being bullied, threatened,” he said.

“What’s the use of having a roof over your head if you’re too afraid to leave your room because of all the bullying and harassment?” Tijsma added.

Here’s a look at some of the numbers behind the violence gay refugees face as they seek safety in the Netherlands.

COC Netherlands has been lobbying for months to get gay refugees the protection they need from harassment and bullying by fellow refugees while they stay in government-established centers. The organization has documented 21 cases of such incidents, including one in which an LGBT refugee found a note on his bed saying “kill gay kill gay kill gay.” Another refugee in the same camp, a temporary shelter near the city of Nijmegen, found a knife stuck in his mattress after having been bullied for weeks because of his sexual identity, Tijsma said. In another case, a refugee found feces on his bed.

“We assume this is just the tip of the iceberg” and that the number of cases is actually much higher, Tijsma said. Not only are LGBT refugees not used to talking about their sexual identity, but they often don’t speak Dutch or English and face difficulties filing complaints in countries they’re unfamiliar with, he added.

Out the roughly 40 temporary centers that the government has established for refugees over the last half a year, anti-LGBT incidents have been reported as taking place in more than ten of them, Tijsma said. It is often difficult to determine who specifically is responsible for death threats or harassment, but since they’re taking place in the temporary shelters, they’re likely from fellow refugees, Tijsma said.

A total of 47,000 people were in refugee centers in the country 2015, according to the COA, a government agency in charge of the facilities. Many of them came from Syria or other Middle Eastern countries. While Dutch society is mostly tolerant of LGBT people, some refugees coming from conservative countries across the Middle East seem to be grappling with acceptance of their peers, especially in such tight quarters.

It could still be several weeks or even a month before the Dutch government gives parliament an answer on how it plans to respond to the motion. One center could be built specifically as an emergency facility for gay refugees facing abuse and are in need of immediate assistance, or several facilities could be located across the country.

The push to get authorities to push forward with a facility that focuses, however, is only part of a broader effort to address anti-LGBT harassment. In January, the Netherlands’ education ministry said there will be training about gay rights in all refugee centers across the country. They will use the exact same materials as those being used in schools, it said in a late January release.

“We can’t be naive,” Education Minister Jet Bussemaker told local media. “Refugees comes from countries where women’s rights are not always respected and where gay rights are not self-evident.” She added that she spoke with several LGBT refugees, one of whom was a transgender “who wants to live as a woman but was so afraid on a journey to Turkey that he let his beard grow.”

In other countries across Europe, initiatives have sought to help LGBT refugees and migrants who have made a treacherous journey from overseas. One day-center in Berlin, Germany assists gay and transgender refugees with advice and counseling.

Jishai Evers contributed to this report.