Gay Syrian refugees struggle to survive in Lebanon
When Khalil, 26, entered Lebanon having escaped the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Syria, he thought his life would finally improve.
But one night, he was lured into a meeting with two men. He says they raped him, stole money from his wallet and his mobile phone.
Khalil never reported the alleged rape to the police. He is a refugee, and he is also gay. He feared he would be penalized, and that no one would care about what had happened to him.
Since then, he has tried to commit suicide – a friend found him and took him to hospital.
Although Lebanon is often perceived as more tolerant than most countries in the region, like in Syria the Lebanese Penal Code considers ‘homosexual acts’ illegal. The country’s lesbian gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) community is growing in prominence but the issue is still a taboo.
As one of the nearly one million refugees from Syria in Lebanon, Khalil claims to suffer daily discrimination on the basis of his nationality. But as a gay man he faces further hardship.
The majority of refugees from Syria in Lebanon register with the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, in order to access support. I learnt that many gay men do not disclose their sexual identity when registering with the UN as refugees for fear of the added stigma this would expose them to.
Those who have registered say UNHCR’s service providers have often cast doubt over whether they are gay before providing them with assistance, and are not sensitive to their needs.
Most say they haven’t been able to find the safety and security they were seeking outside of Syria.
Omar, 34, moved to Lebanon in November 2012 from Syria where he feared that Islamist militants who had taken over his city would persecute him for being gay. However, he is still struggling to feel safe.
“In general I am not feeling safe or stable. It’s worse because I am not only gay but I am Syrian as well. There is double discrimination,” he said.
In general I am not feeling safe or stable. It’s worse because I am not only gay but I am Syrian as well. There is double discrimination.
Once in Lebanon, most refugees from Syria struggle with the high cost of living and the lack of support available.
Because of the financial hardship and difficulty they can encounter accessing services, refugees are increasingly reliant on the help of others. This can leave them at risk of ending up in abusive relationships because they have nowhere else to go.
Hamid, 26, moved to Lebanon in 2011 and initially lived with a Lebanese boyfriend who he says abused him. He said he was beaten and made to have sex with the man’s friends.
“He hurt me physically a lot. He broke my leg and hit my ear – I can’t hear properly. I never left the house because I had nowhere to go. I tolerated being beaten…He threatened that unless I had sex with guests he would kick me out of the house,” he said.
He hurt me physically a lot. He broke my leg and hit my ear – I can’t hear properly. I never left the house because I had nowhere to go. I tolerated being beaten…He threatened that unless I had sex with guests he would kick me out of the house.
In November 2013, Hamid ran away and slept on the beach for two nights before registering with UNHCR. He suffers from Hepatitis B, a virus that affects the liver, and has informed UNHCR about his illness.
The costs of treatment for chronic disease like Hepatitis B are very high and not covered by the UN or by the Lebanese healthcare system.
Hamid was able to get tested to confirm his illness, but the treatment costs $3,000 USD per month in Lebanon and he does not have the funds. He is unable to work and is worried that if he falls sick no one will be there to care of him.
With no further support provided, or prospect of receiving medical assistance, Hamid is so desperate he is even considering going back to live with the man who beat him.
Khalil, Omar and Hamid all said they hope they will ultimately be resettled in a country where they will not be afraid to openly admit that they are gay, and are able to have access to medical services and the right to work.
Until then, they will continue to try to survive in Lebanon as best they can.
All names have been changed to protect the individual’s identities.