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Uncertain future for gay Syrian refugees

Government reportedly turning away ‘unaccompanied men’

Record numbers of refugees are fleeing the violence and bombings in Syria to cross the borders to safety in northern Jordan. The Liberal government will unveil its plan to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees on Nov 24, 2015. Credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Canadian advocacy groups are waiting anxiously to see whether the federal government will accept queer men as part of the 25,000 Syrian refugees it plans to take in by the end of the year.

The Liberal government will unveil its plan Nov 24, 2015, but conflicting reports say the feds might exclude single gay and bisexual men.

CBC News reported Sunday evening that “to deal with some ongoing concerns about security, unaccompanied men seeking asylum will not be part of the program.”

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 they claim to have orchestrated.

But the Ottawa Citizen reported on Nov 23 that the government would make an exception for “gay men escaping violence in the the region.”

Both reports cite anonymous sources who are working with the government, which has refused to confirm any leaked details until the scheduled announcement.

Arsham Parsi, founder of the Toronto-based Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees, says he was surprised to hear the initial CBC report on Sunday.

“I thought that it was kind of discriminatory toward men this time, and if [the limitation] was for women, all my feminist friends would be shouting right now,” he says.

Parsi’s group has helped more than 550 Iranians get refugee status, often through a treacherous journey to safehouses in Turkey. He says scores of Syrians and their friends have called and emailed, asking for help in seeking asylum. His group has offered advice, but only specializes in helping people from Iran.

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, 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.

NDP leader Tom Mulcair noted the issue in a press release this afternoon.

“Will a gay man who is escaping persecution be excluded? Will a widower who is fleeing Daesh after having seen his family killed be excluded? This is not the Canadian way,” he said.

Gloria Nafziger, refugee coordinator for Amnesty International Canada, says governments always need to consider LGBT people when taking in refugees from countries that ban same-sex relations.

“When one is providing refugee protection, one always wants to look at the populations of people who are most vulnerable. But to unilaterally make a decision that single men would not be included overlooks some of the very unique and specific protection concerns that some single men might have,” she says.

Nafziger added that Western politicians have ignored that most of the Paris attackers were European-born citizens.

“It’s always worrying when the word refugee and security is always used in the same sentence.”

Parsi says he’s glad people are noticing LGBT refugees, but says people only tend to care when the issue is in the news.

“In many countries the situation remains the same an daily basis,” he says. “It’s not fair . . . that people forget.”

Daily Xtra asked the immigration department to comment but did not receive a reply before publication.