Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration assists LGBTI refugees

Posted by Christopher Coen on August 28, 2010

The Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration (ORAM) is a group based in San Francisco that is working to help LGBTI refugees who are fleeing persecution in their home countries. The Bay Area Reporter has an article detailing the work of the organization.

A little known agency founded two years ago in San Francisco is helping to shine a spotlight on the plight of LGBT refugees around the globe who are fleeing persecution in their home countries.

The Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration, called ORAM for short, is the brainchild of Neil Grungras, an openly gay lawyer who specializes in immigration and refuge law whose career has included stints with the State Department and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

Since founding ORAM in 2008, Grungras has devoted himself full time to growing the nonprofit. He oversees its program in Turkey for LGBT Iranians seeking to immigrate to Western countries and lobbies United Nations officials in Geneva about the needs of LGBT asylum seekers and refugees from around the globe.

“No one had touched on the issues of LGBT refugees, period, from a legal perspective. No one had confronted the reason why the international system does not protect LGBT refugees,” said Grungras…

Unlike more established groups that advocate on behalf of LGBT people within their home countries, such at Human Rights Watch and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, ORAM is focused on what happens once an LGBT person crosses the border to a foreign country.

“People constantly ask us to comment about the situation of gays in various countries but that is not what we do. We help people who have actually left the places where they have been persecuted and help them get refugee status and some legal protection and get settled in a new country,” said Grungras. “We don’t make it our business to focus on persecution in the country of origin. We are a humanitarian organization who helps people who have left their country. Of course we know what is going on, but our mission is to help our brothers and sisters reach safety.”

…”Who ORAM works with is the 95 percent of LGBTs who haven’t been able to get anywhere. They have crossed the border to get out with their lives and that is where they are. But they are not looking to stay in those places,” said Grungras. “When they come to our hands, they are just beginning a very long road to find safe haven. Sometimes they won’t have it for a few years.” …

…This year ORAM has a budget of $650,000. As of June it had a caseload of 35 active clients, five of whom are now living in the United States. Two are in Texas, two in Arizona, and one is living in Florida.

It has three lawyers, including Grungras, working full-time on cases, and a handful of other staffers helping to process and coordinate its caseload.

This summer ORAM opened an office in downtown San Francisco and received $150,000 from the Arcus Foundation to survey numerous non-governmental organizations about their attitudes toward LGBT refugees and what services they offer such clients.

The agency has also launched an “Adopt-a-Refugee” program where it matches donors with one of its clients. Participants must donate $500 in order to be matched with a refugee, and ORAM will provide updates on the person’s immigration case.

The money donated is transferred directly to the adoptee, who can also opt to be in contact with their “adopter” and communicate directly via e-mail or social networking sites such as Facebook.

…Since many LGBT immigrants lack the support of family, the program is a way to help them create new support networks.

“LGBTs are often running away from their family, so to know there is an individual out there who cares enough to open their wallets and give a person money, that is really empowering to them,” said Grungras. here

I wrote to Mr. Grungras several months back, when we posted the case of the two gay Iraqi refugees that were neglected by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Houston, to ask him if it was normal for refugees who are resettled to the US based on their LGBTI status to be assigned to resettlement organizations who offer no services to LGBTI people. And in the Houston case, no services to these refugees who claimed to have been sexually assaulted.

Mr. Grungras said that only just beginning in April did it became possible for OPEs (Overseas Processing Entities) to show refugees’ persecution status in the WRAPS [computer] system. He said that before this the only information about refugees given to resettlement agencies was gender, age, nationality, and special medical issues.

That being the case I hope that LGBTI refugees will no longer be placed with gay-unfriendly groups such as Catholic and fundamentalist Christian resettlement groups.

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