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6 Degrees Live: How COVID-19 is impacting displaced LGBTQI people

Kimahli Powell is the executive director of Rainbow Railroad, an organization that helps LGBTQI people around the world who find themselves in situations of danger and oppression. Powell joined Rachel Giese, editorial director at Xtra Magazine, on 6 Degrees Live to discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting displaced LGBTQI folks.

Below are some of the key takeaways, as well as a video of their full conversation.

COVID-19 has exacerbated challenges LGBTQI folks in several countries were already facing
“We are seeing a situation that was already complex and precarious pre-pandemic and is certainly amplified now,” Powell says. 

State actors have used shelter in place guidelines that were put in place after the pandemic started as an excuse to target LGBTQI centres, accusing those there of violating restrictions of movement.

Furthermore, with COVID-19, people who would sometimes be able to flee to neighbouring Kenya are not able to do so.

Mexico is well established as a transit country that people from Central America use as a corridor to enter the United States. The current Trump administration’s policies have meant that there is a holding pattern at border cities, such as Tijuana, leaving many members of the LGBTQI community vulnerable to violence.

There are “human rights defenders who are doing the heroic work of trying to provide shelter and we are working with them, looking for alternative pathways for those individuals. But COVID can take foothold in a shelter community really easily,” Powell says. “In Canada, we have had our own challenges ensuring shelters are able to have the right health and safety protocols. It is even that much more difficult with shelters in Mexico.”

“Turkey, similar to Mexico and similar to Kenya, is a hub to thousands, if not millions of refugees,” Powell says. Canada had a program that would help facilitate the resettlement of Turkish refugees, but that program was paused in the wake of Canada accepting more Syrian refugees.

We need to be cautious about overreach of the state when it comes to contract tracing and surveillance aimed at combating COVID-19
“I am concerned about just how much liberties we have given to the state even here in North America,” Powell says. “It is even more compounded when you look at what’s happening internationally.”

“We are very concerned about what contract tracing could look like in countries that are hostile to LGBTQI people,” Powell says. In such places, social media apps are used as a tool for entrapment, with police force members striking up conversations with folks online then kidnapping and torturing them when they meet.

“I think we need to ensure that even here in Canada, that we know that contract tracing is going to be an important part of the health response to the pandemic, but we have to do it within a human rights framework.”

What you can do to support Rainbow Railroad and LGBTQI people globally who are seeking asylum
Rainbow Railroad has just released a report on COVID-19’s impact of LGBTQI folks. One recommendation in the report is that countries uphold the right to asylum during COVID-19. Canada has closed its borders to the United States, so those who are in danger cannot cross through. Powell urges Canadians to reach out to the minister of immigration and the minister of public safety to voice their support of LGBTQI refugees and people of enforced displacement and the work of Rainbow Railroad.

To learn more about the work of Rainbow Railroad and how you can support them, visit their website.


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