Increasing the knowledge and awareness around LGBTIQ+ migrants

The EpsiLon project: results and recommendations

24 januari 2019

In the EpsiLon project five countries worked together to respond to two current and urgent educational needs in Europe, namely the rise in migrant and refugee numbers and the persistent inequality and persecution of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans-gender, Intersex and Queer + groups (LGBTIQ+). LGBTIQ+ migrants and refugees live in the intersection of their migration status, sexual and gender identities, which combined leave them at risk of multiple discrimination, making them one of the most vulnerable groups in modern Europe.

The EpsiLon project addressed this issue by increasing the knowledge, skills and awareness of adult professionals and volunteers who may come in contact with LGBTIQ+ migrants and refugees. According to UNHCR, in 2015, over 1.1 million migrants and refugees arrived in Europe. In 2016, this flow continued at a rate of 55,000 per month. Violence at the collective and personal level is the key driver that forces these individuals to abandon their home countries. While doing so their basic needs and human rights are compromised. This also includes their freedom to express their identity with dignity and respect; freedom to exercise their sexual orientation and right to private and family life without being at imminent risk of persecution, bullying and murder.

To the project site

European policies

The EU and its member states have signed treaties and Directives that aim to protect individuals from persecution and discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, including the Right to Private and Family Life in the European Convention on Human Rights and the 2004 Directive recognizing unequivocally that those who face persecution for their sexual orientation and/or gender identity qualify as refugees. The European Parliament EU (2015/2325(INI)) also called on all Member States to adopt asylum procedures and endeavour to develop training programmes sensitive to the needs of LGBTIQ+ persons, in particular women.

Local training

These high-level, EU-wide policy recommendations must be followed by on-the-ground, national and local educational efforts targeted at adult professionals and volunteers who work directly with LGBTIQ+ migrants and refugees. EpsiLon brought together key partners from 5 European countries - one of which is Movisie - to develop a training programme for professionals and volunteers working with asylum seekers and refugees in asylum centres, camps, shelters and in local communities. Italy, Greece and Cyprus are countries where little progress has been made for LGBTIQ+ rights, the Netherlands and the UK are member states where some more progress has been made in terms of support services, practices and policies targeting LGBTIQ+ refugees. At the same time, Greece, Italy and Cyprus are also case studies representing countries which have received larger numbers of refugees during the so called “humanitarian crisis”.

EpsiLon adopted a user-led methodology to design educational tools responsive to the needs of LGBTIQ+ migrants and refugees

Educational tools

EpsiLon adopted a user-led methodology to design educational tools responsive to the needs of LGBTIQ+ migrants and refugees. The EpsiLon training uses an innovative, evidence-based, user-led methodology and its contents target professionals and volunteers providing services for asylum seekers, refugees and migrants in order to raise their awareness and sensitivity to the needs of all refugees who are also LGBTIQ+. The educational tools enable professionals to become familiar with LGBTIQ+ migrants and refugees' pressing needs, helping them challenge their own biases and assumptions.

Key recommendations

The project recommends the following, based on their findings:

  • Better equalities awareness within the LGBTI scene to improve migrant integration: Although not pervasive, there were indications that the LGBTI scene can be both discriminatory and exclusionary. Exclusions are usually economic, however the discrimination is often due to prejudice especially among older generations. More work needs to be done for LGBTI migrants to be accepted within LGBTI communities.
  • LGBTI groups should receive immigration training: More and more LGBTI specialist organisations are being called upon to help LGBTI migrants with immigration cases with very little training. This change seems to be driven by LGBTI migrants feeling more comfortable receiving support from those who understand their sexual or gender identity rather than specialist immigration organisations. Flexibility needs to be ensured by offering both face-to-face and online training.
  • Immigration support organisations and immigration solicitors should receive training to increase their LGBTI sensitivity. Professionals need to be able to identify and overcome language and cultural barriers in order to make migrants aware of the possibility to claim international protection as LGBTI per se and themselves be aware of the legal and cultural contexts of migrants’ countries of origin as far as LGTBIs are concerned.

Training suggestions

Given that the Epsilon Project is essentially about adult education and training, the following training suggestions are recommended based on the findings of the project:

  • Develop a training package for professionals and volunteers in LGBTI focused organisations to help them understand the immigration process better and learn how to access more specialist support.
  • Develop a training package for professionals and volunteers in migrant focused organisations and shelters that improves their awareness and sensitivity of LGBTI support areas.
  • Support professionals and volunteers in LGBTI and migrant focused organisations and shelters to support non-English speaking LGBT migrants to become empowered to make life choices that suit them best.
  • Awareness raising in relation to sexual identity and its interplay with culture for professionals and volunteering working in the legal and translation professions.
  • Help all organisations working with LGBT migrants to support their clients to balance the conflicts between home culture and their sexual or gender identity.

Ongoing efforts

All findings from the UK, the Netherlands, Greece, Cyprus and Italy indicate that LGBT immigrants and refugees across Europe still remain one of the most vulnerable groups, facing many barriers and having specific support needs, so as to be able to adapt and cope with the new conditions in a foreign country. At the same time, they have to deal with LGBT discrimination, which still exists across Europe. EpsiLon and similar projects carried out at EU level can definitely improve their situation, as they can contribute to the improvement of the skills and knowledge and to the awareness raising of the professionals and volunteers working with LGBT immigrants and refugees. The training module and other EpsiLon products are freely available on the project website.

The final newsletter sums up the EpsiLon results. For more information please contact Jolanda Elferink at