At the Edge of Safety: Comparing Responses to Venezuelan LGBT Refugees in Brazil and Colombia amid COVID-19
LGBT Venezuelan refugees are one of the most vulnerable and overlooked groups in one of the largest and most underfunded crises in modern history. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 5.4 million people have left Venezuela due to violence, persecution and poverty, and the number of Venezuelans seeking refuge worldwide has increased by 8,000 per cent since 2014 (UNHCR, 2020). Many have fled to neighbouring Colombia and Brazil, which automatically grant refugee status to Venezuelan asylum seekers. However, protection gaps, poor funding as well as political and social tensions mean LGBT folks face unprecedented levels of homophobia, xenophobia, extreme violence and exploitation in their place of refuge (IOM, 2020; Valiquette, Su and Felix, 2020). Yet, an unlikely beacon of hope lies in the middle of the Amazon, at Casa Miga, Brazil’s only LGBT refugee centre. And in the border city of Cúcuta in Colombia, where La Casa que Abraza (The House that Hugs), provides a safe space for Venezuelan LGBT refugees in a region still facing insecurity from the country’s internal armed conflict. Both centres are run by LGBT people for LGBT people with the aim to provide services and assistance to LGBT refugees. But despite the significance of the essential service these institutions are providing, they remain scarce, underfunded and understudied.
The aim of this study is to shine a light on the significance of peer-to-peer support for Venezuelan LGBT refugees in Brazil and Colombia. The expected outcome is a comparison of the international, national, and local response that can illuminate the benefits and limitations of local responses like Casa Miga and La Casa que Abraza. The objectives of this research are to:
1. Explore Global South-led humanitarian responses to the Venezuelan refugee crisis, and
2. Compare international, national, and local responses to Venezuelan LGBT refugees in Colombia and Brazil amid COVID‑19
To achieve these objectives, we will complete fieldwork in Manaus, Brazil and Cúcuta, Colombia. In total, we will conduct 400 short surveys, 100 semi-structured interviews and 100 participant-aided sociograms with Venezuelan LGBT refugees across both fieldsites. We will also conduct a total of 60 key informant interviews with government, humanitarian actors and local actors.
Specifically, we will focus on peer-to-peer assistance such as LGBT people for LGBT people and refugee for refugee’ support during humanitarian crises. Such support has emerged in my earlier research as a major source of social, emotional and physical well-being for LGBT refugees. Research conducted so far under my SSHRC PEG “Asylum-seeking in the Epicentre of COVID‑19 The Social Impact of COVID‑19 on Venezuelan LGBTQI+ Asylum Seekers in Brazil (September 2020 to August 2021), has found that peer support has been life-saving for LGBT refugees staying at Casa Miga. Miguel (pseudonym), a gay asylum seeker, plainly stated that “without Casa Miga, I would be dead” referring to the homophobic violence he experienced in Brazil. Flora (pseudonym), a Trans refugee and sex worker, echoed this sentiment with regards to COVID-19, stating “without Casa Miga, I would be in extreme danger of being infected. I would be living on the street and fully exposed”. Yet, despite the importance of local peer support institutions like Casa Miga, they are not often included in research on humanitarian responses to displacement or funded by international organizations or states. With COVID‑19 dangerously straining national and local capacities in the region and an additional 1.6 million Venezuelans expected to be displaced in 2021,