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Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees hosts Ottawa brunch

Human rights group launches awareness campaign

More than 60 people turned up for the fundraising brunch organized by the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees (IRQR) on Sat, Feb 27 at Ottawa City Hall.

The brunch was held by the IRQR, a Toronto-based organization committed to helping queer Iranian refugees through the asylum process.

Gilles Marchildon, president of the board of directors, was instrumental in getting IRQR to launch its awareness campaign and fundraiser in Ottawa. Marchildon sees the campaign as a way for queer Canadians to play a role in reaching out to others in a gesture of solidarity.

“It’s very compelling, because you compare our situation here in Canada, with formal equality recognized in the laws, with what we have here, and then you think about the situation that queers in Iran face, which involves not only persecution but actual death. I think that’s why people are inspired and motivated to support the cause,” says Marchildon.

Marchildon spoke of the IRQR as being a modest but effective organization partly due to the diligence and perseverance of its executive director, Arsham Parsi.

Parsi himself spent 13 months as a refugee in Turkey before he was granted asylum in Canada. In 2001 — aware of the circumstances surrounding queer refugees — Parsi began working as an Iranian gay activist offering support to refugees.

In 2008, IRQR was incorporated as an NGO and through its advocacy work has been able to help and is currently helping, about 250 queer Iranian refugees in need of assistance, Parsi says. It has also been responsible for helping 75 people gain refugee status with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

“We are quite successful in helping refugees in Turkey,” says Parsi. “Most of our cases are accepted as refugees and they are in the resettlement process.”

UNHCR estimates that there are approximately 11,000 refugees in Turkey seeking resettlement. According to the UNHCR website, in January 2010, nearly 3,000 refugees were from Iran.

In the Iranian Penal Code, homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death. In order to live freely, queers are forced to abandon their homes, often leaving their families behind.

IRQR focuses on helping Iranian queers through the refugee process by offering legal information and lobbying to speed up the refugee process. They also offer some financial aid.

Once refugees land in Canada, they are able to access resources available to new immigrants, leaving IRQR to help where it is most needed.

Parsi draws on his own experience as a queer refugee and sees his role as executive director of IRQR as his responsibility to help others land in Canada where queers have equal rights and freedoms.

“We want to have freedom and justice, we want to have our rights,” says Parsi.