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Gay Caribbean man granted refugee status after three year fight

Immigration and Refugee Board reverses earlier decisions

Rolston Ryan celebrates World Refugee Day in this submitted photo.

Credit: Courtesy Rolston Ryan

After a three year fight to stay in Canada, a gay man from St Kitts and Nevis has been granted refugee status.

It took Rolston Ryan, who now lives in Toronto, six legal proceedings, include two trips to the Federal Court, to finally be acknowledged as a refugee.

“He suffered harassment, discrimination and violence in St Kitts amounting to persecution,” wrote Michele Pettinella, the member of the Immigration and Refugee Board who decided his case. “He did not receive adequate protection from the state when he reported a violent attack.”

Ryan, who was stabbed and beaten in St Kitts because of his sexual orientation, escaped to Canada in 2013 after he was threatened with a gun.

Courtesy Rolston Ryan

Unlike some LGBT asylum seekers, Ryan’s sexual orientation was never in doubt. Instead, immigration officials argued that there wasn’t any evidence that St Kitts and Nevis was unable to protects its queer citizens.

This is despite the fact that gay sex remains illegal in the island federation and can be punished by up to 10 years in prison.

But the July 27 decision by the Refugee Appeal Division stated unequivocally that St Kitts and Nevis is unwilling to safeguard its LGBT citizens.

“The state criminalizes homosexual activity,” wrote Pettinella. “This is reflective of a state that is homophobic.”

Previous decisions by the Immigration and Refugee Board had cast doubt on Ryan’s credibility and argued that the treatment he endured in St Kitts didn’t amount to persecution, but Pettinella rejected both arguments.

A long journey

“I expected to get this kind of result and be exuberant,” says Joel Dick, who hosted Ryan when he first arrived in Toronto and has remained a close friend. “Really the overwhelming emotion, and I think this was true for Rolston, was just relief.”

Dick, along with his wife Dara Douma, have grown close to Ryan in the three years he’s lived in Canada and consider him to be part of their family.

Joel Dick, Rolston Ryan and Dara Douma.
Courtesy Rolston Ryan

And though Ryan was able to get legal aid funding for many of his legal battles, Dick and Douma helped him fund his last set of appeals.

Dick says that though he’s heartened by the final result, he worries about other refugees who aren’t able to privately raise money for so many legal proceedings.

“People are still left trying to scramble for legal aid funding that is inadequate or hoping that they have the right contacts to raise some money to pay privately for appeals,” says Dick. “And that’s still a troubling sort of reality.”

But despite those worries, Dick is glad that Ryan is going to be safe and can finally start planning for a long-term future in Canada.

And though they’ve already celebrated privately, Dick says that they’re all planning on having a party in the autumn to thank the many people who have helped Ryan along the way.

“It’s been a journey, but luckily one with a good ending,” he says.