Makeup 2 Makeup is currently involved with the support of two LGBTI refugee couples here in Nepal. Nepal currently houses an estimated 500 urban refugees, mostly coming from Pakistan and Myanmar. Due to the unfortunate events in Syria, financial and resettlement support for those in Nepal is sparse. In addition, the Nepali government does not recognize them as refugees as Nepal has not signed onto the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees. Under Nepali law urban refugees are considered illegal immigrants and subjected to a daily fine of $5, which must be paid in full before any refugee tries to leave the country.
Prior to the couples arrival there has been no public cases of LGBTI people seeking asylum in Nepal. This has led to little in terms of support and services for such a sensitive population. Regular shelters can prove dangerous and there are no organizations working specifically for their protection or assistance as refugees.
Makeup 2 Makeup was introduced to the couples in August and has been involved with their support since then. Your donations are making it possible to provide housing, English courses, and a monthly stipend for each couple. Due to their illegal status in Nepal finding employment has proven difficult. A country that usually holds little regard for employment laws suddenly becomes very aware of the technicalities of hiring refugees. We are also involved in working to find alternative shelters and support groups for future LGBTI refugees, as well as places of employment that are willing to overlook their refugee status.
Due to the security risk of one of the couples we have decided not to share their story publicly. Yet their story falls along the similar lines of despair and danger as the other couple, as all have had to flee their country for fear of their personal safety and the desire to simply love who they wish.
Meet Amal and Salima*
Like many living in countries with discriminatory laws and attitudes toward the LGBTI community, Amal and Salima turned to the internet and social media to connect and share their experiences with others, and in their case find love. A love that has been tested by the unimaginable and taken them on a journey filled with challenges and pain.
From the beginning they faced difficulties due to the traditional society of Pakistan. At the age of 13, Amal was engaged to her cousin who was twice her age. Pressure began to mount from her family to go ahead with the wedding and Amal knew if she didn’t leave now her future would be lost. Amal secretly left home and went to live in another city with Salima. Her disappearance from home enraged the family. Soon those close to Amal began receiving death threats if they did not disclose her location. Salima and Amal realized they would never be able to live safely in Pakistan as a lesbian couple and attempted to leave for good.
But their efforts failed, being tricked into international visa schemes and losing money they were left in even more of a dire situation. They slowly began connecting with various non-profits that were helping the Pakistani LGBTI community, seeking shelter and food where they could. Unfortunately they were not as safe as they thought. While residing at one shelter Amal was raped by a staff member, resulting in her pregnancy. Unable to go to the police for fear of being found by Amal’s family, they were left with few options. The horrific incident left Amal in a suicidal state requiring medical attention, and Salima not knowing how to help. They now not only had to think of their own future, but for that of their new baby boy.
Still struggling on the streets, and now with a child, their chance for freedom came through the support of Rainbow Railroad, a non-profit that helps assist those from the LGBTI community escape their countries and seek shelter in safer countries. Complications with her child’s paperwork left Amal with the hardest decision for a mother to make, to stay and risk their lives or leave her child behind until she was able to be resettled. Realizing the only way for a better future for her son was to leave, Amal decided to leave him with a trusted friend until she was able to be reunited. With heavy hearts Amal and Salima boarded the plane to Nepal with dreams of a brighter future ahead.
Both Amal and Salima have been granted refugee status through the UNHCR and are currently waiting for resettlement in Canada. While they may have found a safer place to live in Nepal, the struggle continues. The paperwork necessary for resettlement is long and tedious, taking up to a year for completion. Due to Nepal’s law on employment for refugees being illegal, both are unable to find work. They are still searching for a sympathetic employer who might be able to help, but for now they depend on a small stipend from the UNHCR and Makeup 2 Makeup’s support. Each day is a challenge but they carry on. They dream of the day they will be reunited with their son, and are able to live openly as a couple without the dangers they faced in Pakistan.
*Names have been changed to protect the couple’s identity.