On Wednesday 13 November 2019 the Freilich Project was proud to co-host the panel “LGBTI Refugees: Erasure, Silencing and Heteronormativity,” a prelude to the Queer Displacements: Sexuality, Migration & Exile conference.
Panellists Eithne Luibhéid of the University of Arizona, Lilith Raza of the Queer Refugees Deutschland NGO, Renee Dixson of the ANU, and Azlan AP of the activist group Democracy in Color, examined experiences in Australia, the United States and Germany, noting the complexities of asylum law and lived experience for LGBTI refugees.
Professor Luibhéid and Lilith Raza both challenged the “saviour complex” of certain states, with Luibhéid noting that the same states holding themselves up as human rights defenders also function as the arbiters of violence, commonly demonstrated in immigration systems. Similarly, Renee Dixson challenged academics working in this field to pay attention to the lived experiences of LGBTI refugees, noting that the refugees and asylum seekers who made up 40% of the roughly 100 conference delegates provided essential oversight and accountability to scholars and legal practitioners.
Opening the event, Freilich Project Convenor Ibrahim Abraham noted that although 2019 is celebrated as the 20th anniversary of the Freilich Project, it is also the 10th anniversary of the passing of Herbert Freilich. He shared some of Herbert’s still poignant memories of witnessing anti-refugee xenophobia in Sydney in the late 1930s, directed towards Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany.
Lilith Raza later connected these experiences to contemporary asylum policy in Germany, noting that Germany can be “shamed” into changing policies that conjure up the spectre of its fascist past. This is sadly not the case in the United States, as Professor Luibhéid noted the culture of hostile xenophobia foundational to the Trump administration.