Canada’s federal immigration department has acknowledged it resettled fewer LGBT Iranians from Turkey, in order to make space for the late-2015 Syrian airlift.
The comments, made by a senior official at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, came on Feb 21, 2017, two weeks after an Xtra investigation found that Canada started referring LGBT Iranians to the United States for resettlement. Under the previous Harper government, Conservatives gained international praise for the program that brought hundreds of LGBT asylum seekers from Turkey.
“We never stopped taking LGBTQ Iranians. We had a large flow of referrals that involved Iranians. As we increased the number of referrals for Syrians, we decreased the number of referrals from Iranians,” says David Manicom, the associate assistant deputy minister for strategic and program policy.
“Referrals continue at lower volumes, and may start again in the future,” Manicom says.
While federal officials say they don’t receive data on how many refugees identify as gender and sexual minorities, the immigration department’s internal figures show an 85 percent drop in all Iranians resettled to Canada through the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR).
LGBT Iranians in Turkey, and their advocacy groups, say referrals drastically slowed starting in November 2015, as the Syrian program got underway. Six-month delays grew into year-long holds, before the UNHCR started referring the refugees to the US by October 2016. The department’s data shows that Canada took in 1,022 Iranians through that process in 2014, 374 in 2015 and just 152 in 2016. (These numbers reflect government resettlement totals, and don’t include refugees who were privately sponsored by Canadian citizens and groups.)
Xtra has heard from seven Iranians in Turkey who provided documents showing that Canada initially accepted them from third-country resettlement before suspending their cases. All were referred to the United States, which has now halted refugee resettlement for 120 days (and Syrian refugees indefinitely).
One of the seven asylum seekers provided a recording of a late-2016 conversation with a UNHCR official, which Xtra is not broadcasting for legal reasons. The six other refugees said they have all had similar phone calls with the UNHCR.
In the Persian-language conversation, translated for Xtra by both activists and non-activists, the UN official recommends re-applying for resettlement through the US.
“Canada is currently accepting only Syrian refugees [from Turkey],” the UN official says, explaining why one claimant’s file languished for almost a year.
“Canada said it would resume accepting refugee files after five months. Then, the five months were prolonged into six months . . . then six months were again prolonged into one year,” the official says on the tape. “Afterwards, Canada suddenly declared it would not accept any refugee files.”
“At the time we submitted your file . . . we referred all LGBT files to Canada for processing, until all of a sudden, Canada stopped accepting these files and left its accepting status as ‘undecided’ for us.”
Xtra asked Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen on Feb 21 how he justifies this policy, which may come under parliamentary scrutiny.
“We have a refugee policy that is first and foremost informed by vulnerability,” Hussen responded. “And we work very, very closely with the UN Refugee Agency as well as private sponsors to identify the most vulnerable, and that would include members of the LGBTQ2 community.”
He also touted a private-sponsorship program, in which groups have helped LGBT Iranians resettle in Canada through a longer process.
“That is work that we've engaged in, and we'll continue to — to do so, to help those ones.”