As countries toughen anti-gay laws, 'rainbow refugees' seek asylum in Europe

Ella Anthony knew it was time to leave her native Nigeria when she escaped an abusive, forced marriage only to face angry relatives who threatened to turn her in to police because she was gay.

Since Nigeria criminalizes same-sex relationships, Anthony fled a possible prison term and headed with her partner to Libya in 2014 and then Italy, where they both won asylum. Their claim? That they had a well-founded fear of anti-LGBTQ+ persecution back home.

While many of the hundreds of thousands of migrants who arrive in Italy from Africa and the Mideast are escaping war, conflict and poverty, an increasing number are fleeing possible prison terms and death sentences in their home countries because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, advocates say.

And despite huge obstacles to win asylum on LGBTQ+ grounds, Anthony and her partner, Doris Ezuruike Chinonso, are proof that it can be done, even if the challenges remain significant for so-called “rainbow refugees” like them.

'If you’re lucky you end up prison'

“Certainly life here in Italy isn’t 100% what we want. But let’s say it’s 80% better than in my country,” Chinonso, 34, said with Anthony by her side at their home in Rieti, north of Rome.

In Nigeria, “if you’re lucky you end up prison. If you’re not lucky, they kill you,” she said.

“Here you can live as you like,” she said.


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