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Canadian government to accept gay Syrian refugees

Conflicting reports clarified at press release

Syrian refugees at the slovenian border with Croatia in Bregana, Slovenia. The Liberal government announced on Nov 24, 2015, that it would be accepting LGBT refugees. Credit: iStock Editorial/Thinkstock

The Canadian Liberal government announced on Nov 24, 2015, it will sponsor queer men as part of its pledge to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees — though it’s asking local groups for help.

In a media briefing, officials said the government will make it a priority to sponsor classes of people which includes “single adult men only if identified as vulnerable due to membership in LGBTI community.”

Other priority groups include people who are “members of the LGBTI community,” as well as “women at risk” and “complete families.” Officials say they’ve consistently prioritized those groups of Syrians since 2013.

The priority groups only apply to people sponsored by the government. Groups of five people can also sponsor Syrians whom the UN has recognized as refugees living in exile.

The government has also shifted its end-of-year target to 10,000 Syrian refugees, with another 15,000 arriving by the end of February 2016. The effort will cost up to $678 million over six years.

The announcement comes after conflicting media reports that the government would not be taking in single young men.

Terrorist networks in Syria like the Islamic State group and Jabhat al-Nusra use almost exclusively young men as fighters, and in carrying out recent attacks those groups claim to have orchestrated.

Arsham Parsi, founder of the Toronto-based Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees, says he was glad to hear the government is prioritizing LGBT refugees, but says it needs to working closer with advocacy groups.

“Some people will also lie and say that they are gay or bisexual,” says Parsi, whose group has helped more than 1,300 Iranians seek asylum in the past decade. “Groups like us work with local people, to find who needs help.”

And although the government is encouraging groups of Canadians to help bring in refugees through private sponsorship, Parsi says he’s not aware of any group working for the scores of queer Syrians who have asked him for help.

Last August, the United Nations Security Council held an unprecedented briefing on LGBT persecution by extremist groups in Syria and Iraq.

The meeting came after the Islamic State group unveiled its mode of execution for those it deems sodomites: throwing men off of rooftops and to be stoned to death if they’re still alive. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission has documented similar punishments for lesbians and trans people.

Media reports say gay Syrian and Iraqi refugees have been ostracized and even attacked by fellow refugees in camps.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel said it’s important the government prioritize “those who are facing immediate threats of genocide,” including LGBT Syrians. Rempel argued their plight shows why the Liberal government should reverse its plan to pull out of airstrikes against ISIS.

“This is an expansionist group that is the exact antithesis of the openness and equality rights that we have in Canada.”