Showing posts with label Asylum. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Asylum. Show all posts

September 7, 2018

This HIV Gay Man Had No Choice But to Seek Asylum in Moscow




In mid-July, a gay, HIV-positive foreigner arrived at an immigration office in Moscow seeking asylum in Russia. Unlike in his native Uzbekistan, where sex between men is punishable by up to three years in prison, Russia has not criminalized homosexual relations.

But as he and his lawyer discussed his case with an immigration officer, their interlocutor made clear she had no sympathy for people like him.

"If it were up to me, they would all be put up against a wall," the officer with the Moscow branch of the Russian Interior Ministry's Main Directorate of Migration Affairs said, according to audio of the conversation obtained by RFE/RL.

At one point in the conversation, the officer, who said she herself hailed from the applicant's Central Asian homeland, switched to the man's native language to express her disapproval of the man's sexual orientation.

"Cursed be your father. Do you understand me, dog?" she is heard saying in Uzbek.
The officer's comments are now the subject of a formal complaint to Russian authorities by the applicant's lawyer on behalf of a rare subset of individuals seeking refuge in Russia: gay men.

Advocacy groups have registered a spike in asylum applications by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Russians in the West since Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a controversial 2013 law that bans "promoting..nontraditional sexual relations" among minors.
But the number of people fleeing to Russia from governments with more restrictive laws on same-sex relations remains exceedingly small, according to Russian activists who work with such asylum seekers.

That number jumped slightly when Russia hosted the World Cup this summer, as some foreign gay men obtained official fan passes for the soccer tournament and sought refuge after arriving in the country, according to Varvara Tretyak, a counselor with the Civic Assistance Committee, a Moscow-based nongovernmental organization that helps refugees and forced migrants.
'They Think It's Like Europe'
Some of the gay men fleeing to Russia, such as the Uzbek man cited in the complaint by his lawyer, hail from predominantly Muslim former Soviet republics in Central Asia, where they risk criminal prosecution and unofficial persecution due to their sexual orientation.

While those applicants have a certain grasp on Russian realities, Tretyak says that others -- such as applicants from Africa -- were unaware of the trajectory of LGBT rights in Russia, which rights groups and Western officials have accused of fostering discrimination and emboldening violence against sexual minorities in recent years.

"They think that it's like Europe in Russia, and that they've found a safe space. And, of course, they are very disappointed when they apply for asylum because there they encounter very strong homophobia from officials who insult them," Tretyak told RFE/RL in a telephone interview.
Antigay protesters attack a gay-rights activist during an LGBT rally in central Moscow in May 2015.
Antigay protesters attack a gay-rights activist during an LGBT rally in central Moscow in May 2015.
Putin and other officials deny that Russia discriminates against sexual minorities and have said the so-called "gay-propaganda" law enacted in 2013 ismerely aimed at protecting children
Anton Ryzhov, a lawyer for the Russian LGBT organization Stimul representing the Uzbek man who was called a "dog" by the immigration officer, said he and his colleagues decided to file a formal complaint with the Interior Ministry in order to change what he called a "vicious" system for those seeking asylum and refugee status in Russia.

"We agreed that we won't just ignore it and will try to shine a light on this issue, otherwise it will happen again to everyone we bring in," added Ryzhov, who said he submitted the complaint by mail this week on behalf of the Uzbek man and gay men from Turkmenistan, Nigeria, and Cameroon seeking refugee status in Russia.

The complaint, a copy of which was reviewed by RFE/RL, accuses immigration officers dealing with refugees and asylum seekers of stonewalling Ryzhov's clients by demanding evidence that they are gay during the initial application.
'Everything Was So Great Under Stalin'
Russia is not alone in demanding evidence of sexual orientation from LGBT asylum seekers. The United States, for example, requires such proof as well, said Jackie Yodashkin, a spokeswoman for the New York-based Immigration Equality.

"For refugees fleeing a country where it is unsafe or even a crime to be LGBTQ, it can be immensely difficult to provide 'evidence,' as many are forced to live entirely in the closet for fear of being killed," Yodashkin wrote in an e-mail. 

But Ryzhov said the issue of evidence is to be considered at a later stage, noting that Russian law allows anyone the right to apply for asylum or refugee status.

"Authorities are required to accept [the application]. But they can't even do that," he said.

Ryzhov's complaint also accuses immigration officers of "insults and discrimination" against his clients.

The complaint cites several other remarks by the immigration officer to the gay Uzbek applicant, including her reference to HIV-positive individuals as "AIDS boys" and her remarks that it is "too bad that they developed a treatment" for the disease.

"A disgrace to society," the officer says during the exchange, according to the audio obtained by RFE/RL.

After the applicant says he hopes that he would eventually be allowed to marry his partner in Russia, the officer suggests he try his luck in Uzbekistan, whose deputy justice minister said in May that international calls for greater LGBT rights in the former Soviet republic are not on Tashkent's agenda.
After Ryzhov and his client point out that criminal punishment for homosexual relations is still on the books in Uzbekistan, the officer appeared to long for a return to the Soviet-era criminalization of sexual activity between men.

"Everything was so great under Stalin," she said.​
The Russian Interior Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the immigration officer's recorded remarks to the Uzbek asylum seeker or Ryzhov's objection to the treatment of his clients.

A ministry spokeswoman told RFE/RL that the inquiry was received on September 5 and had been passed along to its migrant-affairs directorate.
'It's Not As Bad As In Cameroon'
Thierry, a gay Cameroonian man in his late 20s, said he was unaware of what rights watchdogs call a deteriorating situation for LGBT rights in Russia when he decided to apply for refugee status there this year.

"I didn't know about [the 2013 'gay-propaganda' law]. I learned about it after coming to Russia," Thierry, whose case is cited in Ryzhov's complaint, told RFE/RL in a telephone interview.

Thierry, who agreed to speak on condition that his last name not be published, said he and his boyfriend were attacked "physically and verbally" in Cameroon after people learned that he was gay. He said he was also physically abused by his father and other relatives.

"My mother tried to support me by telling me to leave the country," he said.
Thierry said he ended up in Russia earlier in early 2018 after around four years of trying to flee Cameroon, where same-sex sexual relations are a criminal offense punishable by up to five years in prison.
A rainbow-colored ribbon is tied to a crucifix next to a Russian flag fluttering atop the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg last month.
A rainbow-colored ribbon is tied to a crucifix next to a Russian flag fluttering atop the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg last month.
He says he made his way to Morocco and tried to flee to Spain by boat, and that he was rescued after the vessel capsized. An acquaintance in Morocco recommended that he go to Russia, Thierry said.

"He knew someone who could easily send us an invitation to obtain a visa. So he helped, and thank God I obtained a visa. The first time I got a visa I didn't have money for the plane ticket, so the visa I had [expired]. So I got a second visa. That's how I came to Russia. I've been here about three, four months," Thierry said.

He said he left Cameroon "because of violence, because homosexuals are not accepted" there.

"LGBT people are not accepted in Cameroon. We face problems, even death threats in some cases," Thierry said.

He said he feels "a bit more secure here in Russia than in Cameroon."

"The LGBT are not accepted here in Russia, but at least here in Moscow things are different than in Russia's other regions. There are LGBT members that hang out together -- I've found a partner -- so it's not as bad as in Cameroon," Thierry said.
Grounds For Optimism?
LGBT applicants in Russia face a steep challenge in securing asylum or refugee status in Russia. The country had a total of 598 recognized refugees in 2017, the lowest number since 2008, according to official data.
Of the 228,392 people who received temporary asylum in 2017, nearly 99 percent were from Ukraine, where fighting between Russia-backed separatists and Kyiv's forces in the east have killed more than 10,300 since April 2014.

Tretyak of the Civic Assistance Committee said her organization doesn't know "of a single case in which an applicant was granted refugee status or temporary asylum by claiming that he or she is persecuted in their homeland due to their sexual orientation."

Regarding the six LGBT applicants in Russia the group has worked with this year, Tretyak said: "We're very interested to see what immigration services say this time about why they decide not to grant these individuals refugee status."

But there may be some grounds for optimism for the asylum seekers.

Anastasia Soltanovskaya, a spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Russia, told RFE/RL that while Interior Ministry data shows that "very few" people receive refugee status in Russia, "we have had LGBTI cases that received temporary asylum.
RFE/RL correspondents Golnaz Esfandiari, Merkhat Sharipzhanov, and Sirojiddin Tolibov contributed to this report.

January 17, 2018

LGBTQ Asylum Seekers Find A Place to Call Home in Britain










The slender and feminine El Salvadorian had almost got used to incessant verbal abuse but having to share rooms with other male asylum seekers was what Sami feared for the most.

“I was scared to death,” said Sami, 20, who arrived in Britain in 2016 and was first housed in temporary accommodation in the northern cities of Manchester and Liverpool with other asylum seekers.

“It was hard to be sharing with another male whom I didn’t know and especially because I am a bit feminine. All that time it was at the back of my head, who is going to be coming into the room? You could be asleep and just get attacked.”

Intersex people are born with sex characteristics that do not fit typical notions of male or female bodies. Up to 1.7 percent of people are born with intersex traits, according to the United Nations.

Sami, who asked to use a pseudonym, is one of the more than 3,500 people who claimed asylum in Britain based on their sexuality, gender identity or intersex status between 2015 and 2017, according to the Home Office (interior ministry).

Sami faced threats and discrimination in El Salvador, a conservative Catholic country where gay sex is not illegal but lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTi) people endure harassment and violence.

They face rocketing levels of violence from criminal gangs and members of the security forces, rights group Amnesty International said last November.

In more than 70 countries being LGBTi is not safe, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), a federation of national and local organisations dedicated to achieving equal rights LGBTi people.

Even though Britain is more tolerant, LGBTi asylum seekers still face discrimination, threats and even violent attacks, said Sebastian Rocca, chief executive of Micro Rainbow International (MRI), a charity working to eliminate discrimination and poverty among LGBTi people.

“One of the problems that LGBTi asylum seekers and refugees face is that because of their sexuality they are extremely isolated and vulnerable,” Rocca said.

Lack of safe housing is a widespread problem as they are often placed in housing with people from their own countries, or with those who are anti-gay because of their religious and cultural backgrounds.

“The majority of LGTBi asylum seekers do face some violence or abuse, whether that’s physical, sexual or psychological abuse,” Rocca told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Such abuse reawakens previous traumas. MRI’s clients have reported experiencing the same fears they felt in their home countries, Rocca said.

A PLACE TO CALL HOME

MRI set up Britain’s first safe house for LGBT refugees and asylum seekers last October and has since opened a second one.

Apart from safe accommodation, residents are provided with psychological support, life-coaching and business training.

Sami moved in last autumn and, for the first time in years, feels safe and at home. 
“The fear and uncertainty living in these other places were killing me. Now I finally feel safe because I live with people who respect me,” Sami told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in the cozy house on the outskirts of London.

 “I know I can wake up and just do my makeup and be able to fully express myself without having to be afraid that someone is going to attack me or that someone is going to be judging me.”
Malik, a gay man from Bangladesh, who came to Britain in 2011, agrees.
“Since I moved into the house, I‘m happy. I have found a family,” said Malik, 35, in whose home country gay sex is illegal and many people strongly disapprove.

Leading LGBT rights activists Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy were hacked to death in Bangladesh in April 2016, amid a spate of violent attacks against secular bloggers, academics, gay rights activists and members of religious minorities.

Malik found out for himself how entrenched anti-gay attitudes are in his country when his mother disowned him and his brothers threatened to kill him.  
“Last time I talked to my mum, she told me ‘you just humiliate me, don’t come back’. And I can’t go back because my brothers are going to kill me,” Malik said, sitting on his bed in a bright, well-furnished room in the safe house.
Malik said he used to live with heterosexual people in Britain and even though he was never physically attacked, he suffered verbal abuse, especially from other Bangladeshis.
“They don’t attack just physically but mentally attack the whole time,” he said.

REJECTED

Home Office data shows an estimated 6 percent of asylum claims made in Britain between July 2015 and March 2017 were based on sexual orientation. Around a quarter of those applications were successful.

The nationalities with the highest number of asylum claims where sexual orientation was raised were Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Nigerian.

The Home Office said it “remains committed to improving the process for those claiming asylum on this basis” and that it ensures housing provide to LGBT asylum seekers is safe.

“Housing providers are contractually required to take account of any particular circumstances and vulnerability of those that they accommodate, including sexual orientation or gender identity,” a Home Office spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Campaigners say a lack of protection for LGBT asylum seekers is a widespread problem in Europe. In Germany, LGBT asylum seekers have complained about intimidating comments made during their asylum interviews. In Ireland, many face threats and from other asylum seekers in accommodation centers.

Rights groups blame the problem on a lack of basic training on LGBTQ rights for those making decisions about asylum claims and interpreters.

MRI, which supports eight asylum seekers and refugees with safe housing, says much more is needed and aims to provide safe housing for more than 150 LGBT asylum seekers by 2019.

“The need in this country is massive. There are hundreds of LGBT asylum seekers every year who need a safe place to be,” said Rocca.

Reporting by Astrid Zweynert @azweynert, Editing by Ros Russell.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org
*picture: by Keala on Natre.org.uk

November 30, 2017

The Fight For LGBT Asylum Seekers Out of Ukraine Just Got Tougher





Soldado Kowalisidi had fought for LGBT rights in Siberia since 2012, and had come out as a transgender man in 2015, when last year he finally sought shelter in Ukraine, convinced he couldn’t continue his work in Russia anymore. Russia had just passed legislation widely known as the “Yarovaya package” — twin anti-terrorism laws that dramatically expanded the government’s surveillance powers. As one of Siberia’s first openly transgender activists, Kowalisidi had long been a target for Russia’s security service, and for homophobic gangs.
Ukraine, he hoped, would offer him protection.
He was wrong. The 25-year-old was last month denied refugee status by Ukraine’s migration service, his case the latest in a string that human rights activists believe could be the result of discrimination. Just the week before Kowalisidi’s verdict, a Ukrainian court had sided with the migration service in its decision to deny another LGBT activist, Belarusian Edward Tarletsky, refugee status the previous year. 
Human rights activists say the treatment of LGBT asylum seekers is symptomatic of Ukraine’s attitude toward the wider LGBT community. Homophobia remains prevalent across the country at a time when Ukraine is preparing to take a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council for the 2018–2020 term, following its election in October. That means Ukraine will soon hold others accountable for their human rights record while it still faces questions about its treatment of sexual minorities.
One caseworker handling Kowalisidi’s application had no idea what a transgender person was. A second was more blunt. “If you haven’t had gender reassignment surgery, you are a woman,” Kowalisidi recalls the officer telling him. The interviews, he says, made him feel as though he were at fault for being transgender. For sure, Ukraine’s migration service isn’t welcoming in any case for asylum seekers, irrespective of why they’re seeking shelter in a foreign land — only 71 applicants out of 656 received protection in 2016. But human rights advocates say minorities such as the LGBT community face further discrimination. (A migration service spokesperson said they had no knowledge about discrimination within the body.)
Oleksandra Lukianenko, a lawyer at Right to Protection, a refugee-aid nongovernmental organization, says officers at the migration service are not trained enough to work with this vulnerable category of people, and don’t understand their fear of returning to their home countries. This, she says, leads to the rejection of their claims. Her nonprofit is currently working with four LGBT asylum seekers, none of whom have so far been granted protection.

People hold placards reading 'Members of parliament do not be indifferent', 'We all equal, we all worthy' during a rally of Ukrainian activists and representatives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community
People hold placards reading “Members of Parliament, do not be indifferent” and “We all equal, we all worthy” during a rally of Ukrainian activists and representatives of the LGBT community.
For the moment, the total number of LGBT asylum seekers applying for shelter in Ukraine is small, says Anna Kuznyetsova, a resettlement associate at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Ukraine. Though exact numbers are unclear, Kuznyetsova says these cases are new for the migration service, only really emerging in the past two years.
That may appear to partly explain the ignorance Kowalisidi experienced. But Ukraine faces a deeper challenge, suggests Irene Fedorovych, project coordinator at the nonprofit Social Action Centre in Ukraine. The country, she says, receives LGBT refugees but also produces them. Ukraine, she adds, has never been “very human rights orientated,” an approach reflected in how authorities handle LGBT cases. “When you start talking to them, they genuinely do not understand that their attitude is part of what we call discrimination,” she says.
It was a very different Ukraine that activists had envisioned following the Maidan revolution, which ousted Russian-allied President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. The country, they had hoped, would adopt a more progressive attitude toward the LGBT community as part of its new pro-European rhetoric. But there has been little improvement either socially or legally on protections for the community, says Olena Shevchenko, executive director of LGBT nonprofit Insight. Just two weeks ago, a gay couple from Odessa fled Ukraine, fearing for their lives after they were targeted in a homophobic attack. “We have a pride parade now,” Shevchenko says. “But we would like to feel safe at other times of the year too.”

Far-right activists burn the rainbow LGBT flag outside the Small Opera House in Kiev on June 13, 2017 during the official opening of Kiev Pride 2017.
Far-right activists burn the rainbow LGBT flag outside the Small Opera House in Kiev on June 13, 2017, during the official opening of Kiev Pride 2017.
Officially, the UNHCR says it has not received any complaints of discrimination against LGBT applicants while seeking asylum in Ukraine. It has, however, resettled four LGBT asylum seekers who were turned away by Ukraine in third countries, since 2015. It will also this year partner with the European Asylum Support Office to train migration-service caseworkers how to assess with sensitivity claims related to sexual orientation and gender identity.
And while Ukraine is expected to use its seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council to highlight Moscow’s abuses in Crimea and parts of Donbas that are under Russian occupation, next year’s membership could cut both ways. “With a seat on the council, the spotlight on the human rights situation of the members is that much brighter,” says Human Rights Council spokesman Rolando Gomez. “We would expect with a seat on the council that they would [take their] human rights obligations that much more seriously.”
For those expectations to turn into reality may take time, though. And for Kowalisidi, who is in the process of appealing the decision of the migration service, it may be too late by then.
  • Natalie Vikhrov, OZY Author

August 1, 2017

In Germany An Asylum Seeker Most Go Thru The Most Embarrassing Questions-Necessary?





Somalian LGBT asylum seeker Khadar at his home near Frankfurt, Germany in July 2017. Photo courtesy of KhadarFRANKFURT (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - After Khadar arrived in Germany from Somalia in December 2014, he waited nearly two years for his asylum interview - the appointment that would decide if he could stay in the country. 
Khadar, who is gay, left his hometown of Qoryoley in southern Somalia aged just 17 because his life was in danger, he said. Homosexuality is outlawed in Somalia, one of a handful of countries where consenting gay sex is punishable by death. 
"In Germany, I felt very anxious about what would happen to me," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Frankfurt. "I didn't know if I would be deported back to Somalia." 
When Khadar finally sat down to his interview in October 2016, his interpreter warned him, in Somali: "Don't say anything bad about Islam." 
Speaking at the headquarters of support group Rainbow Refugees, Khadar, "a proud Muslim", said the comment made him uncomfortable, as if he could not express himself openly. 
The 19-year-old is one of many LGBT asylum seekers in Germany who have complained about ignorant or intimidating comments made during their asylum interviews. 
During these interviews, asylum seekers must talk about why they came to Germany in front of a "decision maker", who asks the questions and an interpreter who helps with translation. 
While Germany's parliament voted to legalize same-sex marriage in June and last weekend saw one of the world's biggest gay pride parades in Berlin, prejudice against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community persists. 
And as interpreters are often hired from refugee communities, they can reflect attitudes from asylum seekers' home countries – attitudes they came to Germany to escape. 
Rights groups blame the problem on a lack of basic training on LGBT rights for decision makers and interpreters. 
A spokesperson for Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BaMF) said by email: "The interpreters are not schooled in asylum related topics as their only task is it to translate word by word." 
But the Thomson Reuters Foundation spoke to several gay asylum seekers who felt uncomfortable discussing their sexuality in front of their interpreters. 
No Word for Gay 
In a Berlin café, Mahmoud Hassino, a journalist and activist from Syria, described his experience: "When I told (my interpreter) that I wanted to include homosexuality in my grounds for claiming asylum, he dropped his pen and walked out of the interview." 
Abdullah al-Busaidi, another activist from Oman now living in Saarbrücken, near the French border, discovered his interpreter did not know the word for "gay" in Arabic. 
If refugees are made to feel uncomfortable during their interview, they might withhold crucial information about their case – risking rejection and possible deportation, said Knud Wechterstein, founder of the charity Rainbow Refugees. 
"It is my opinion that the low qualification of interpreters is a reason for the high number of wrong decisions made by the BaMF," he said, adding that nearly half of his clients, 22 people in total, had received deportation orders. 
A report published in March by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights raised concerns about asylum interviews for LGBT applicants across the bloc. It suggested interpreters don't receive adequate training because they are hired as external contractors, not as government staff. 
"Intimate Questions" 
In the report, Germany was singled out for using "unlawful, intimate questions" to test if LGBT asylum seekers were telling the truth. 
This was the experience of Javid Nabiyev, an asylum seeker from Azerbaijan. 
"My asylum interview was just disgusting," says Nabiyev, founder of the organization Queer Refugees for Pride. 
Despite a 2014 decision by the European Court of Justice ruling that asylum seekers should not be questioned about their sexual activity, Nabiyev says he was asked intimate questions about his sex life, including about sexual positions. 
Cara Schwab, project manager at Plus Mannheim, who works with LGBT refugees in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, believes better training for all decision makers and interpreters is crucial. 
"With training, a person can become aware of their own stereotypes or even homophobia," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. 
Special representatives or "Sonderbeauftragte" who have been trained to deal with LGBT applicants do exist, but Schwab said she had never met one. "When we put in a request, we are usually ignored," she said. 
The federal migration and refugees office, BaMF, said there were 321 special interviewers in Germany, but they are not available for every relevant asylum interview. 
"Unfortunately it is not always possible to enable an interview with one of these special decision makers, because it could, for example, result in a much later interview appointment," a spokesperson said. 
The availability of specially trained staff appears to vary around the country. 
Leipzig-based Queer Refugees Network said it found it easy to contact specially trained staff. "They're doing good work. They're sensitive, they listen. We're happy," project manager, Sabrina Latz, said by phone. 
Khadar, the Somali teenager, has now been granted refugee status. But he says it's important others like him are able to express themselves freely during their asylum interviews. "We want someone who doesn't judge us," he said. 
Reporting by Morgan Meaker; Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, resilience and climate change. Visit www.trust.org

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