Archive for February, 2010

SB (anonymous) – Asylum from Uganda to UK

Posted on February 25, 2010. Filed under: Stories - from other sites |

Ugandan lesbian wins UK asylum court case, will government still try to deport?
By Paul Canning

A Ugandan lesbian, known at this stage only as ‘SB’, has won an asylum court case in the High Court against Home Office arguments that she could safely be deported.

The 24 February case before Mr Justice Hickinbottom, which will now go to judicial review, featured strong evidence of the persecution of lesbians in Uganda. The government’s defence highlights how the UK asylum system will make every effort including breaking and twisting both rules and evidence to deport lesbians and gays.

It remains to be seen whether the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, will continue to insist that it is safe to return her to Uganda.

Fleeing from Uganda
SB had been briefly detained by police for her lesbianism in September 2003 in Mukono, just west of Kampala (which has ties to Guildford), and again in Kampala in May 2004. Released, she was put on bail but because she had not complied with their reporting conditions she was put on a ‘wanted list’.

That November she traveled on a visitor visa to the UK. She overstayed the visa and was discovered during an immigration sweep. Found to have a false Ugandan passport she was arrested and sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment.

Many LGBT asylum seekers do not immediately claim asylum for a variety of reasons, including shame or simply a lack of awareness that they can claim asylum. False papers are often used to escape oppression but lead to criminal charges.

In June 2008, SB claimed asylum. This was refused point blank by the Home Office: they did not believe either that she was a lesbian or that she had been detained by police.

She appealed before an immigration judge in March 2009 but asylum was again refused on the basis that “there was no evidence that she was at risk of ill-treatment of such severity [once deported] as to amount to persecution.”

That judge agreed with the Home Office’s case that there was only ever one case of persecution of lesbians in Uganda, which had involved the high profile chair of a gay group. Because, the judge said, SB was “a very discreet person, and had conducted her sexual relationships discreetly in the past – and would continue to” she could be safely deported.

However the judge did accept the fact that she was a lesbian, that she had been detained by the police and ran the risk of being detained again.

She filed another appeal in July 2009 but on 2 November a caseworker issued an order to seize, detain and then deport her.

On 5 November further representations were made which included far more detailed and up-to-date evidence on the position of lesbians and gays in Uganda. But these were again rejected out of hand by the Home Office who plowed on with their drive for deportation.

Justice Hickinbottom described this decision as “irrational”.

The evidence
The evidence Hickinbottom had before him came from Dr Michael Jennings of The School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Paul Dillane from Amnesty International UK, who works with the AI Office in Kampala, and Dr Chris Dolan, Director of the Refugee Law Project in Uganda, a community project of the Faculty of Law, Makere University.

Dolan provided over 350 pages of recent background material, including work on the treatment of returnees, particularly at (Kampala’s) Entebbe Airport.

This showed that there is a check on failed asylum seeker returnees by Ugandan police and that, given the current hostile attitude towards homosexuality, it would be more difficult for SB to bribe her way out of detention (as John Bosco, who was returned by the Home Office, was forced to do), and it’s likely that any bribe would be for a considerable sum.

Amnesty International said that her history of arrest and detention would mean she would be “at real risk of harm should she be forcibly returned.” Evidence presented of the abuse suffered by lesbians in Ugandan police detention ran the gamut from touching of intimate parts to the threat of being put into a male cell with the consequent risk of rape.

Prossy Kazzoza, who finally won UK asylum in 2008, was marched naked to a Ugandan police station and subjected to horrific sexual attacks and physical torture after she was discovered by her family. She escaped to the UK after her family bribed the guards to release her — as they wanted to deal with their family shame by having Prossy killed.

The original immigration judge for Prossy’s case believed her claim to having been raped and tortured but felt it would be safe to return her to a different part of Uganda.

The evidence Hickinbottom had showed that identified gay men and lesbians can be the subject of ill-treatment, by both the public in terms of lynching and ‘corrective rape’ and by the police — without them being otherwise ‘high profile’. (Thus arguing against the Home Office claims that only one lesbian who was a group leader has ever been persecuted in Uganda).

Because SB is unmarried and without children, the evidence showed, it would – apart from the police attentions – be extremely difficult for her to maintain the sort of ‘discretion’ which Home Office policy dictates should allow for ‘safe’ deportation for lesbians and gays even to countries where persecution is known to occur (for example Iran).

Wrote Hickinbottom:
Given this evidence – much of which post-dates the determination of Immigration Judge Grimmett last year – it is perhaps surprising that the Secretary of State took the view that this material, taken with the material the Claimant previously relied upon, was not such as to give the Claimant any chance at all of succeeding with her new asylum claim before a tribunal.

Never mind the evidence
All of this was blithely dismissed by the Home Office representative who wanted deportation because he continued to claim that evidence “lacked specific examples of ill-treatment of identified gay men and lesbians in Uganda”. Home Office minister Alan Johnston’s representative claimed:
• that the ill-treatment of gay men in Uganda was limited to discriminatory legislation that was not enforced
• SB would only be at risk of arrest in Kampala because the record of her bail infringement was only kept there (evidence showed otherwise, Ugandan police do share the ‘wanted list’)
• she could internally relocate and live discreetly, as a lesbian, without fear of persecution
• even if arrested in Kampala, she would not face the risk of persecution because the harassment she suffered at the hands of the police when she was arrested in 2003 and 2004 was not sufficiently severe to amount to persecution
• there was evidence of only one incident in which lesbians had suffered ill-treatment during detention
All this is in line with the Home Office country-specific operational guidance notes available to case workers and judges on Uganda – it makes no mention of lesbians. (A series of reports – including one last month – have decried the quality of these reports.)

Victory?

Refusing the Home Office and allowing the judicial review, Hickinbottom wryly noted that the presentation of the previous judgment once again by Alan Johnston’s representative as an argument for deportation – despite all the subsequently available evidence of persecution of lesbians in Uganda – could not be used as “a trump card for the Secretary of State”.

He also decided that the brief detention of SB on the orders of a case worker in November was unlawful. He said a number of mistakes were made by the case worker, such as falsely claiming that SB was liable to abscond, and that an Judge’s order saying she could not be deported due to a judicial review and must be released was ignored.

It is not over for SB. The Home Office could still fight the case at its next stage. It can keep trying to pull out trump cards rather than live up to its solemn obligations under international laws which the UK is signed up to.

Other parts of the British government are engaged with critiquing the same ‘crack down’ on Ugandan lesbians and gays that’s detailed in evidence presented in SB’s case. Ministers have made statements. The Foreign Office is “concerned”. The Prime Minister has pulled aside the Ugandan president and told him to stop.

Perhaps those ministers who tell off Uganda for its attitude to Ugandan lesbians could have a quiet word with their fellow minister, Alan Johnson, about his own treatment of Ugandan lesbians?

This story is located at:
http://madikazemi.blogspot.com/2010/02/ugandan-lesbian-wins-uk-asylum-court.html

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Tim Coco (US) and Genesio “Junior” Oliveira (Brazil)

Posted on February 24, 2010. Filed under: Stories, Stories - from other sites |

Genesio Oliveira, Gay Brazilian Married To Massachusetts Man, Is Denied Asylum
BOSTON — A gay Brazilian man has been denied asylum by the Obama administration and won’t be reunited with his Massachusetts husband in the U.S., the husband said Monday.
Tim Coco said Attorney General Eric Holder did not act on a Friday deadline in the case of Genesio “Junior” Oliveira, effectively denying the 30-year-old Brazilian man’s request for asylum in the U.S. on humanitarian grounds.

“We needed the Attorney General to make a decision on whether Junior could come home,” said Coco, 48, of Haverhill. “He didn’t take this request seriously.”
The Justice Department did not immediately return messages.

In 2002, Oliveira had sought asylum in the U.S. because he said he was raped as a teenager in Brazil. But an immigration judge denied his request, and Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich said in a letter that Oliveira repeatedly remarked at his hearing that he “was never physically harmed” by anyone in Brazil. Coco, however, said Oliveira was referring to street beatings and wasn’t clear during his hearing about the harm he faced because of the rape.
The Associated Press does not typically name rape victims, but Oliveira speaks openly about his case and allows his name to be used.

Oliveira returned to Brazil in 2007 after losing an appeal. Before he left, he and Coco married in Massachusetts in 2005 and bought a house together.

According to federal immigration law, immigrants also can apply for residency if they marry U.S. citizens. But the federal government does not recognize gay marriages under the Defense of Marriage Act, and Oliveira’s request to remain in the United States based on his relationship with Coco was denied this year.

In March, Sen. John Kerry asked Attorney General Eric Holder to grant Oliveira asylum on humanitarian grounds.

Kerry spokeswoman Brigid O’Rourke said Monday that the senator will continue to work toward a solution that would reunite the couple for good.

“The fact is that if Tim and Junior were a heterosexual married couple, they would never have suffered through more than two years of separation,” said O’Rourke.

Coco said he thought there was “no way” the Obama Administration would deny Oliveira’s asylum request after Kerry made his plea to Holder.

“We are profoundly sad,” said Coco. “This is more than any married should have to face.”
The case comes as Obama tries to smooth a rocky relationship with gay activists, who want him to end the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays, which he has pledged to do but hasn’t given a timeline. Tens of thousands of gay rights supporters marched in Washington earlier this month, demanding Obama keep his promise to end the policy.

Coco said he has spent about $250,000 in legal bills and hasn’t seen Oliveira since January, though the two video chat online every night.

Oliveira was denied a visa to return to Massachusetts last year for the funeral of Coco’s mother.

Oliveira now lives with his mother, helping her run a boarding house for students.
Coco said the couple plans to launch a legal challenge against the federal Defense of Marriage Act as a violation of immigration laws.

“This is our last shot, if nothing else works,” said Coco. “But we think we can pull this off with the right legal counsel.”

O’Rourke said Kerry supports the couple’s legal challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, which limits how state, local and federal bodies can recognize partnerships and determine benefits. He also called for a law to extend benefits to domestic partners.

This month, Obama called on Congress to repeal the Defense Of Marriage Act.
While Brazilians are generally more tolerant of homosexual conduct than their neighbors in Latin America, the country remains something of a paradox. Judges have granted foreign partners in gay relationships the right to residency and have authorized civil unions that bestow many of the same benefits of marriage to gay couples, but many segments of society remain openly hostile to homosexuals.

A handful of transgender men and women from Brazil also have been granted asylum in the U.S. based on testimony that they had been victims of violence.

Since 1994, sexual orientation has been grounds for asylum in the United States after a ruling by then-Attorney General Janet Reno. Dozens of asylum seekers from the Middle East, Latin America and Africa have won asylum on that ground, according to Immigration Equality, a New York-based nonprofit group that helps gay clients with immigration cases.

However, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services doesn’t keep data on asylum cases won on sexual orientation claims.
This story is located at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/10/27/genesio-oliveira-gay-braz_n_335376.html

Story continued:
Immigration Judges Often Picked Based On GOP Ties
Law Forbids Practice; Courts Being Reshaped

By Amy Goldstein and Dan Eggen

The Bush administration increasingly emphasized partisan political ties over expertise in recent years in selecting the judges who decide the fate of hundreds of thousands of immigrants, despite laws that preclude such considerations, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.

At least one-third of the immigration judges appointed by the Justice Department since 2004 have had Republican connections or have been administration insiders, and half lacked experience in immigration law, Justice Department, immigration court and other records show.
Two newly appointed immigration judges were failed candidates for the U.S. Tax Court nominated by President Bush; one fudged his taxes and the other was deemed unqualified to be a tax judge by the nation’s largest association of lawyers. Both were Republican loyalists.
Justice officials also gave immigration judgeships to a New Jersey election law specialist who represented GOP candidates, a former treasurer of the Louisiana Republican Party, a White House domestic policy adviser and a conservative crusader against pornography.

These appointments, all made by the attorney general, have begun to reshape a system of courts in which judges, ruling alone, exercise broad powers — deporting each year nearly a quarter-million immigrants, who have limited rights to appeal and no right to an attorney. The judges do not serve fixed terms.

Department officials say they changed their hiring practices in April but defend their selections. Still, the injection of political considerations into the selection of immigration judges has attracted congressional attention in the wake of controversy over the Bush administration’s dismissal last year of nine U.S. attorneys.

The Post analysis is the first systematic examination of the people appointed to immigration courts, the relationships that led to their selection and the experience they brought to their position. The review, based on Justice records and research into the judges’ backgrounds, encompassed the 37 current judges approved by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales or his predecessor, John D. Ashcroft, starting in 2004.

That year is when the Justice Department began to jettison the civil service process that traditionally guided the selections in favor of political considerations, according to sworn congressional testimony by one senior department official and a statement by the lawyer for another official.

Those two officials, D. Kyle Sampson and Monica M. Goodling, have said they were told the practice was legal. But Justice spokesman Dean Boyd said that immigration judges are considered civil service employees who may not be chosen based on political factors, unlike judges in federal criminal courts.

All the judges appointed during this period who arrived with experience in immigration law were prosecutors or held other immigration enforcement jobs. That was a reversal of a trend during the Clinton administration in which the Justice Department sought to balance such appointees with ones who had been attorneys representing immigrants, according to current and former immigration judges.

Boyd said in a written statement that judges appointed during the Bush administration are “well qualified for their current positions” and that “outstanding immigration judges can come from diverse backgrounds.” Boyd also said that race and ethnicity are not factors in hiring but cited statistics showing that immigration courts are “considerably more diverse” than other kinds of courts.

The department launched a new hiring program in April that requires public announcements of open positions and detailed evaluations and interviews, with a final decision still in the hands of the attorney general. The action came partly in response to a lawsuit by a veteran immigration counsel who alleged discrimination when she was passed over for two judgeships.
Some judges and other immigration experts are highly critical of the administration’s practice of placing political allies on the courts. “When we start seeing people who look like [they’re fulfilling] someone’s political debt get these positions, it starts to become disturbing,” said Crystal Williams, a deputy director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

“Immigration law is very complex,” said Denise Slavin, an immigration judge since 1995 in Miami, who is president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, a union. “So generally speaking, it’s very good to have someone coming into this area with [an] immigration background. It’s very difficult, for those who don’t, to catch up.”

Mike Hethmon, general counsel of the Immigration Reform Law Institute, which advocates stricter border policies, said, however, that a strong legal background is more important than immigration experience. “The qualities of a good adjudicator don’t necessarily focus on the subject matter,” he said.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration has said it is employing the nation’s 54 immigration courts, with 226 judges, as a central tool of its anti-terrorism policies, using them to deport hundreds of noncitizens who were detained as terrorism suspects but were not charged with crimes.

In 2002, it created stiffer guidelines for appeals and wrote new rules sharply reducing the number of judges who hear them, partly to reduce a large case backlog. That has made it harder for people deemed unwanted by the government to stay in the country.
The infusion of politics into the selection of judges began in the midst of this transformation of the court system. Sampson and Goodling, who participated in the prosecutor firings, did not say which immigration judges had been selected for their political leanings. But records and interviews reveal the Republican ties of many.

One was Glen L. Bower, whom Bush initially nominated to the tax court. He was never confirmed because lawmakers noted that his amended tax returns showed he had taken inappropriate deductions for entertainment, gifts and meals for three consecutive years. A former Republican state legislator, Bower was the revenue director to then-Illinois Gov. George H. Ryan (R), who would be convicted on racketeering and fraud charges.

A few months earlier, another failed tax court nominee, Francis L. Cramer, a former campaign treasurer for Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), was appointed as an immigration judge. Cramer’s bid for a seat on the tax court foundered after the American Bar Association’s taxation section wrote a rare letter to the Senate Finance Committee, saying: “We are unable to conclude that he is qualified to serve.”

Cramer was then hired by the Justice Department’s tax division and was briefly lent to the department’s Office of Immigration Litigation. Ashcroft approved him as an immigration judge in March 2004. The Government Accountability Office, a legislative watchdog, criticized the appointment, saying, “Converting a Schedule C [political] appointee with less than 6 months of immigration law experience to an immigration judge position raises questions about the fairness of the conversion.”

Another politically connected lawyer, Garry D. Malphrus, was appointed to Arlington’s immigration court in 2005. He had been associate director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and, before that, a Republican aide on two Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittees.

During the Florida recount after the 2000 presidential election that brought Bush to office, Malphrus took part in the “Brooks Brothers riot” — when GOP staffers from Washington chanted “stop the fraud” at Miami’s polling headquarters.

Other appointed Republican loyalists include lawyer Dorothy A. Harbeck, who represented New Jersey’s last GOP candidate for governor; Mark H. Metcalf, an unsuccessful Republican candidate for the state Senate and U.S. Congress from Kentucky who went on to several positions at the Justice Department unrelated to immigration; and Chris A. Brisack, a former Texas county GOP chairman who had been named by Bush, the governor at the time, to the state’s Library and Archives Commission.

Bruce A. Taylor, who was appointed as an immigration judge in Arizona last year, was general counsel for two conservative anti-pornography groups, Citizens for Decency Through Law and the National Law Center for Children and Families. Taylor also worked as a senior counsel in the Criminal Division at the Justice Department, but his résumé does not indicate immigration-related experience.

Like other immigration judges contacted last week, Taylor declined to comment. He said the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees immigration courts, had instructed immigration judges to refer questions to the main office in Falls Church. A spokeswoman there referred questions to Justice headquarters.

The recent pattern of hiring for immigration judges provoked a 2005 lawsuit by the government’s chief immigration lawyer in El Paso for 22 years. Guadalupe Gonzales — no relation to the attorney general — alleged she was denied a judgeship twice in favor of less-qualified white men who were hired without an open application process.

Her suit alleged that, between 2001 and late 2005, only two Latinos were appointed nationwide as immigration judges. Justice Department records make clear that the immigration bench is overwhelmingly male and white, even though Spanish-speaking people from Latin America make up at least 70 percent of the caseload.

The Justice Department responded in court papers that Gonzales’s lawsuit should be thrown out; it argued that she had not identified a discriminatory practice and that immigration judges did not have be hired as part of a competitive process. It said that all but four immigration judges chosen during the period in contention — from late 2003 to 2006 — were hired without public competition.

In September, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled against the department, finding that Gonzales “had identified a particular policy that has a discriminatory effect on a particular group.” Sullivan said that one judge hired in El Paso did not meet the minimum qualifications for the job. Neither, the judge said, had Gonzales’s level of experience.
This story is located at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/10/AR2007061001229_pf.html

UPDATE: June 4, 2010

Tim Coco and Genesio Oliveira married in 2005, among the throngs who wed after same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts. But for nearly three years, they lived apart — Coco in Haverhill and Oliveira in his native Brazil — because federal law does not recognize their union.

On Wednesday, Oliveira returned to Massachusetts for an emotional reunion after federal immigration officials took the rare step of granting him permission to stay for one year on humanitarian grounds, clearing the way for him to try again for legal residency. His return followed personal appeals by Senator John F. Kerry, US Attorney General Eric Holder, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on their behalf.

“We’re overjoyed. Words can’t express it,’’ Coco, 49, an ad agency owner, said yesterday from their home in Haverhill, where he had decorated his yard with yellow ribbons to mark their long separation. “Every new moment now is a fresh new moment in our life.’’

Kerry called the couple heroes for persevering in their marriage.

“Here were two people who loved each other and were as committed to each other as you could ever imagine, and a quirk in the law was being allowed to keep them apart. I just wanted to do everything I could to reunite them,’’ he said in a statement.

Kerry also praised Napolitano and Holder, saying, “They really listened, and they righted this wrong.’’ Unlike heterosexuals, gays and lesbians cannot sponsor their immigrant spouses for legal US residency.

Oliveira was allowed to return because US Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is under the Department of Homeland Security, granted him humanitarian parole. Parole is a rarely used mechanism that permits otherwise inadmissible people to enter the United States for “urgent humanitarian reasons’’ or “significant public benefit,’’ said agency spokesman Chris Bentley. About 250 to 350 people are granted such parole every year, he said.

He declined to comment on Oliveira’s case because of privacy laws. Holder’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Humanitarian parole is temporary, but Coco said the couple might seek to reopen Oliveira’s case or try another venue so that he can remain permanently.

According to the 2000 US Census, some 35,000 same-sex couples include one US citizen and a partner who is not.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, criticized the move, saying it seemed unfair to grant a special exception for Oliveira when so many others, such as earthquake survivors in Haiti, are clamoring to get into the country.

“It’s a side-door attempt at changing the Defense of Marriage Act,’’ he said, citing a 1996 federal law declaring that marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman. “That’s the problem with our immigration laws; it’s just this vast collection of exceptions for people who get the attention of a particular bureaucrat or judge or politician.’’

But Kerry and others contended that Oliveira was a victim of injustice. He had applied for asylum in 2002, saying a doctor had raped him in Brazil when he was 16 and he suffered discrimination in his native country because he is gay. An immigration judge found his story credible but rejected his asylum claim, noting that Oliveira had returned to Brazil twice without incident, including for his father’s funeral.

Oliveira was ordered to return to Brazil in 2007. By then, he had been married two years and living in Haverhill with Coco and their dog, Q-tip.

For nearly three years, the couple talked nightly over the Internet and lobbied lawmakers and others for Oliveira’s return. Coco estimates they spent about $250,000 in legal fees and other expenses on the case.

Oliveira missed the death of Coco’s mother in 2008 and lived in near seclusion just blocks from the doctor who had assaulted him as a teen in his hometown in eastern Brazil.

Though Brazil recognizes same-sex marriage for immigration purposes, violence against gays persists. More than 100 homosexuals and transvestites were killed last year in Brazil, according to the US Department of State’s human rights report.

Wednesday night, the couple celebrated with family and friends. They finished each other’s sentences. Oliveira whipped up a batch of chicken Alfredo, with strawberries for dessert.

“It seems like I never left,’’ Oliveira said. “This has made Tim and I stronger than ever. Our commitment for each other, I always say to him, is unbreakable.’’

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Mehdi Kazemi – Asylum from Iran to Europe

Posted on February 20, 2010. Filed under: Stories - from other sites |

Gay Iranian Fights For Asylum In Europe – 19-Year-Old Man’s Plea Initially Rejected By U.K., Says Boyfriend Executed In Iran

(AP) The Netherlands’ highest court rejected a gay Iranian asylum seeker’s last-ditch bid to avoid deportation to Britain, where he fears authorities will send him back to Tehran and possible execution.

In a ruling published on its Web site Tuesday, the Council of State said Britain is responsible for Mehdi Kazemi’s case, because it was there that the 19-year-old first applied for asylum.

Gay rights campaigner Rene van Soeren said Kazemi’s Dutch lawyer was considering an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. The lawyer, Borg Palm, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Boris van der Ham, a lawmaker who has taken up Kazemi’s cause, has tabled questions in Parliament asking the junior minister for immigration, Nebahat Albayrak, to lobby British authorities on Kazemi’s behalf.

Albayrak should either urge Britain not to send Kazemi back to Iran or offer him asylum in the Netherlands, Van der Ham said in a telephone interview.

“There should be some political leadership,” he said. “I hope in Britain they will do it and otherwise we should take the boy.”

Kazemi is not expected to be deported before Albayrak has answered Van der Ham’s questions.

Justice Ministry spokeswoman Karen Temmink said Albayrak is studying the court ruling and drawing up answers to Van der Ham’s questions.

Kazemi’s case highlights not only the plight of homosexuals in Iran, but also differences in the way European Union allies deal with asylum seekers.

The Netherlands relaxes its tough asylum laws for Iranian gays – virtually guaranteeing asylum to any who apply here – because of persecution they face at home. Britain, on the other hand, rejected Kazemi’s original asylum request.

Kazemi, 19, says he traveled to London to study English in 2005 and applied for asylum in Britain after learning that his lover in Iran had been executed for sodomy.

After British authorities rejected Kazemi’s application, he fled to mainland Europe and applied for asylum in the Netherlands.

Quote
We examine with great care each individual case before removal and we will not remove anyone who we believe is at risk on their return.

U.K. Border and Immigration Agency However, because Kazemi had already applied for asylum and been rejected in Britain, the Dutch government is refusing to consider his case and insists he must be sent back to Britain. It cites the European Union’s 2003 Dublin Regulation, which declares that the member state where an asylum seeker first enters the EU is responsible for processing that person’s claim.

Tuesday’s court ruling upheld the Dutch position.

Palm said last week that Kazemi was in such despair he was on suicide watch in a center for rejected asylum seekers in the port city of Rotterdam.

Britain’s Home Office has declined comment, saying it does not discuss individual asylum applications, but it is unlikely authorities would reverse their earlier rejection.

However, Britain’s Border and Immigration Agency has issued a statement that could give Kazemi hope.

“We examine with great care each individual case before removal and we will not remove anyone who we believe is at risk on their return,” the agency said.

Matteo Pegoraro, president of the Italian-based gay rights group EveryOne, which is lobbying for Kazemi, has said he knows of 10 gay people executed in Iran since 2005, based on reports from nongovernment groups and activists.

This story is located at:
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/03/12/world/main3927899.shtml

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Ali and Mohammad – Asylum from Iran to Canada

Posted on February 20, 2010. Filed under: Stories - from other sites |

Ali, 32, and Mohammad, 25

Iranian gay couple granted asylum in Canada – A gay couple who fled Iran in 2005 to escape arrest and a possible death sentence for homosexuality have been given asylum in Canada.
The men, Ali, 32, and Mohammad, 25, arrived in Toronto Wednesday night. Their family names are being withheld to protect family members still in Iran.
The Islamic state routinely rounds up gays. A number have been placed on trial and sentenced to death according to international human rights groups although the government officially has said the executions were for other offences.
In 2005 Ali and Mohammad fled Iran for India where they sought and obtained help from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to relocate in Canada the Toronto Sun reported Thursday.
UNHCR made an “urgent and high priority” plea for their resettlement at the Canadian embassy in New Delhi, Arsham Parsi, of Iranian Queer Railroad, told The Sun.
The organization is modeled after the Underground Railroad that helped slaves from the US South escape to Canada in the mid 19th Century. Iranian Queer Road says it has helped more than 60 gay Iranian refugees resettle in Canada, the U.S. and Australia.
“There are many more Iranian queer refugees who are still being processed,” Parsi told The Sun.
Ali and Mohammad were staying with friends in Toronto on Thursday.
“It took them three years to get here,” said Parsi. “Canada is a gay-friendly country and they will be successful here.”

This story is located at:
http://www.365gay.com/news/iranian-gay-couple-granted-asylum-in-canada/

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Fabiola Lemos – Asylum from Brazil, to US

Posted on February 16, 2010. Filed under: Stories - from other sites |

Many flee harassment at home for more accepting communities in the United States
By Diana Britton

One day Fabiola Lemos was walking out of a bakery in Mariana, the oldest city in Brazil’s Minas Gerais region, when she heard a guy say: “Here goes the dyke again. She thinks she can just walk up and down.”

Lemos felt a punch in the back, then was thrown to the ground and beaten. She remembers covering her face and praying, “I don’t want to die like this.”

A petite, muscular woman with curly black hair, Lemos, now 33, moved to Rio de Janeiro, hoping to find safety from persecution. But one day, heading for the supermarket, she heard guys making jokes about her, and calling her a man.

“I totally panicked. I ran like crazy,” she said. She found a policeman.
“Lucky you, they didn’t beat you up,” the officer sneered. “That’s what you deserve. Keep going, otherwise I may decide to do [to you] what they didn’t do.”

Lemos, a dental assistant, eventually moved to New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood, where she lives with her mother. She’s one of many immigrants seeking asylum in the United States on fairly new grounds: persecution due to her sexual orientation. Then-U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno 13 years ago established that this was grounds for asylum in the United States. Now such asylum applications are growing.

There are no official stats on gay refugees: the U.S. government still classifies them simply as persecution cases. “Sexual orientation is not grounds for asylum,” said Shawn Saucier, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services, which oversees immigration cases under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security. Since sexual orientation is not a separate legal category, the agency evaluates each person’s claim based on the facts at hand, Saucier said. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission has recorded 785 successful U.S. claims since 1994. But Dusty Aráujo, documentation program coordinator for the group’s San Francisco office, said that tally is probably incomplete.

Gay asylees are nonetheless a new and emerging community.

“Sexual orientation is the next big issue in terms of ‘will the whole world agree on that’?” said Nikki Dryden, staff attorney at Immigration Equality, a New York-based organization working to improve immigration rights for gay, bisexual, transgender and HIV-positive people. The United Nations is just starting to grapple with the issue, Dryden said.

The number of gay asylees skyrocketed in the 1990s, said Andrés Duque, who directs the Latino Commission on AIDS’ program Mano a Mano, in New York.

“When the first group of people started getting granted asylum, a lot of immigrants thought that it was really easy, so a lot of people started applying en masse,” Duque said.

Weihaur Lau, 28, an HIV prevention educator in San Francisco, was granted asylum in 2003 after coming to the U.S. from Malaysia in 1997 to study. A gay Malaysian politician had been persecuted in 1998, and since his case had been prominently featured in the news, many Malaysians were granted asylum around that time, Lau said.

It’s harder to win a case today. And when Congress passed the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which required individuals to file for asylum within one year of arriving in the United States, the number of gay asylees dwindled: often immigrants missed the deadline, advocates said.

Lemos almost did, too — but managed to file in April 2006, days before her year was up.
Saucier said his agency doesn’t consider the deadline a problem. “As soon as you land in the U.S., it’s reasonable to expect that you would make an asylum claim,” he said.

But gay immigrants often find it excruciating to testify about their sexual experiences in courtrooms before strangers. Lau, who grew up in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, is from a conservative Chinese background where, he said, homosexuality was not discussed.
“They don’t know how to talk about it,” he said. “They just have no concept of it.”

Asylees also suffer the extra stress of being obliged to wait much longer for green cards than immigrants who apply for work reasons. Lau said asylees must wait in line for as long as five to eight years, and cannot leave the country without forfeiting their status. So Lau could not return to Malaysia when his father died in May 2006.

“It was just a very huge regret in my heart that I couldn’t go back,” he said. “We feel imprisoned here too.”

Jesús Moreno, 28, fled Mexico City after the police demanded bribes in exchange for not telling his parents he was gay. Moreno, now an HIV testing coordinator in Oakland, Calif., said he endured an exhausting two hours of close questioning by an asylum officer about his persecution in Mexico. “Those are things that really hurt,” he said. “It was difficult to bring them to the present because you want to forget almost everything.”

But he was granted asylum, in June 2000. He now feels safe to walk the streets as an openly gay man. Even if he were harassed, he feels reassured that he could go to the police for help.
“That is the peace of mind that I have now,” he said.

Lemos has traveled between New York and Brazil for 10 years. But in Brazil, she still feels she must hide who she is – while in New York she is open about her sexual orientation. “For the first time, I really see a gay community,” she said. “Gay people walking, holding hands, all over. I was like, ‘This is amazing.’”

Fabiola Lemos was harassed in two Brazilian cities before petitioning for asylum in the United States, arguing she was persecuted because she is gay.

This story is located at:
http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/livewire/politics_society/gay_asylum/

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Eric (California) and Neto – Hervatska (Croatia)

Posted on February 13, 2010. Filed under: Stories |

Kako Sam Upoznao Moju Ljubav (How I Met My Love)

By: Eric

How do I start? There is so much to tell!

I remember sitting in the living room with a dear friend of mine on her couch. We were looking out her window at the rose garden when she said, “you are going to meet the man of your dreams”. After having just sold my home in Alameda, left my job and sold pretty much all of my personal belongings- the last thinking was meeting the man of my dreams. I was getting ready to leave on the journey of my life to travel the world, visit museums and see the world that I had only read about till this point in my life.

A little history…

Mom was a teacher and dad was a cop- they raised us four kids and provided a pretty good life, at least they did the best they could. I was fortunate to have grown up in the country living on a ranch with lots of animals, places to play and friends and family to love. Then my parents lost the home that we lived in due to a bad investment deal. They had purchased the land our home was on from a family member who was being forced to file bankruptcy- that meant my parents did not own the land our home was on- talk about uprooting my young social calendar. We lost pretty much everything and had to move down to the SF Bay Area to live with my grand-parents. How yummy humble pie tastes!

It was difficult because I was just entering puberty and I was sensitive and slightly- well…gay! My sexuality was not easy for me to accept mostly because I had always been very close to God as a young boy. That all changed when the pastor at our church told me that if I didn’t change my ways- that I would go to hell. I guess he suspected that I might have been gay- you think? His comment really screwed things up for me mentally and helped fuel a life long struggle for acceptance and security. Struggling with thoughts of suicide and self torture- I often begged and bargained with God to help me change myself. Funny it took me years to realize he left me just the way I was and waited for me to accept how he created me. It took a long time and I still even struggle till this day to accept this.

I ended up leaving High School early because of threats to my safety and distraction. There was just no way to focus on education when I was coming out- meeting men that would help me find my way into adulthood was all that would avail itself to me at the time. I remember once some friends from High School had followed me to where I had arranged to meet the first gay man I ever knew. He picked me up in his black sports car and we sped off to the city where he would take pictures of me in Golden Gate Park. My friends drilled me the next day- “Are you gay?” they asked curiously. My best comment about coming out came from my sister- when I told her that I was gay- she said, “Oh my God, how cool- I have a gay brother”.

My first partner and I moved in together when I was about 16 and we were together till I turned 21. Being in a monogamous relationship with him is probably what prevented me from contracting HIV/AID’s. For the remainder of my 20’s and 30’s I was a typical Gay Guy living in the City of San Francisco- moving up the corporate later and doing very well for myself. Struggling with addiction to food and alcohol has also always been a part of my life.

Why did I all of the sudden digress- because I felt it was important to include a little bit of history in my story. I am not unique and I understand that some of us have struggled with religion, acceptance, and many other social stigmas that are imposed on us by society and our government. I have always wondered what my claim to fame would be in life and as I now turn 40 realize that it’s to watch and be a part of GLBT history. Being a part of the GLBT experience has shaped who I am as an individual, a partner, a family member and friend. Someone said once that you might not know it, but GLBT’’s are all around you. I loved that saying and to this day think it is more profound than how simple it sounds as I write it out.

Story resumes…

So I fly to Germany to meet my best friend from High School who ‘s husband is stationed in Iraq. I stay there for a couple of months and decide to take her on a cruise of the med. During this cruise, we stop over on a day excursion in Dubrovnik- OMG. I am in love. I couldn’t get over how beautiful this city is. It was like something out of medieval history 101! I felt like the first time I saw SF or NYC- transformed. I go back to Germany- research Dubrovnik and Croatia and am enthralled. I find out there is an American University there and apply to get in so I can get a visa. I am accepted and the adventure begins.

I had already purchased an Intrepid trip from Saint Petersberg, Russia- to Austria. I have three months till school starts so I figure I better get my travel going since I am now going to be a Student living in Dubrovnik. I travel up through Denmark, Sweden, Helsinki and take the train to Saint Petersburg. I meet up with my group from Intrepid and we go south for a couple of months and numerous countries. I have the time of my life- so far!

I get to Dubrovnik, find a place to live, and at this time am VERY LONELY if you know what I mean. When you are traveling for three months- you don’t exactly have the time for quality relationships. There is plenty of other “stuff” but that is one of the reasons I wanted to leave the US. I just felt like everyone was focusing on instant gratification and I wanted more. I was however a little sick of seeing castles- LOVED the museums and the Hermitage puts the Louvre to shame- that is my favorite thing to say about my travels- lol. Everyone has been to the Louvre darlings! How many have done the Tage? Anyway, I am being pretentious- please forgive?

I am now living in the Old Town- Stari grad. Je ucim Malo Hervatska ( I am learning little Croatian). It’s a very difficult language to learn. I am loving the life, meeting tons of people, and am having the time of my life. Life is good!

Then it happened. I have goosebumps as I type this. I met the man of my dreams. He was staring at me from across the Stradun. He gets mad at me when I tell it like this- cause we actually met one other time, he also says it was more than once. We didn’t really meet yet though. I was hanging out and the VIP Café on the Ploce Gate (two entrances to Dubrovnik and this is the West side). I was chatting with the only very well known “Original” aka (very gay man) and he had called some of his friend to have them check out his new American boyfriend. Of course I had no idea this was happening because I don’t understand Croatian conversations happening at 100 miles per hour.

Then he comes into the café and I see this handsome man and am just speechless while sucking in my stomach and trying to look sexy. I am totally liking this guy- he is HOT! He has this cool silver streak of hair in his goodee (as he calls it) and wow how unique.
However- I was to shy and didn’t think he liked me- till the day he was staring me down across the Stradun. I was being shy and hiding behind the umbrella but couldn’t help but notice this handsome man and the fact that he was staring at me.

Well it still didn’t happen. I had a friend coming from the States and she was do any minute. I met her and immediately we started out and about around town. I took her into this jewelry store that was supposed to be very high end- and guess who was there?

And that is how it all started. We exchanged numbers, met that night, and have been together ever since. It has not been easy for us however. After living in Dubrovnik and being together for about 3 months, it was necessary for me to have to come back to the US. I was out of money and could not get a job to stay in Dubrovnik. It was heartbreaking leaving Neto. We had spent every day together and we were best friends. It was so easy- everything! We were so happy together and I had never imagined I would meet such a wonderful man.

I left Croatia heart broken and devastated. Thank God however for IM and Video chat with Yahoo. The time difference was difficult and getting back into corporate world was even worse. Neto and I were making plans- I was doing a lot of research and we decided that we were going to try and stay together. For six months we were apart (which I realize is not as long as others) but it was very hard for us both. I would try and send some money cause it was the winter months where there was no work for him. I also was not earning as much and the economy was starting to tank.

Eventually Neto was accepted at City College of San Francisco and he made one of the hardest decisions of his life. He left his family and friends, his home country, his life, mother, nieces and nephews. He did that for me- he did that for us. I am totally humbled by this and moved to tears when I think of how much he as done for us. I love this man so much. He has given me such unconditional love and acceptance than anyone in my life. I have had a lot of good things in life, penthouse in SF, diamond rings, multiple nice cars, world traveler- but nothing means more to me than Neto. He is my life, he is my soul, he is my shadow, he is my strength. He is the world to me. We have been through so much together and we are still as strong today for it. But we live in fear. Fear that what we have can be taken away from us at any moment. Fear that our love, our life, our happiness and our story- will end tragically for us without any control on our part.

I told a lot about my history because I want people to know what we struggle with. Societal and Historical stigmas are tearing apart the lives of our GLBT society. This doesn’t make us unique- but what does is that Society in general still thinks its okay to discriminate against GLBT’s. This needs to stop. We need to organize, pick one unified voice who represents us all, and start lobbying like the others till we get our deserved equal rights.

Neto and Eric are living together with our two cats- Sara and Katy. We hope that someday soon Neto will get the DV lotto or that by some miracle; our Government will give us our rights. Till then, we are happy- we are strong and loved in knowing we have people out there fighting the cause with us. Thank you for listening! If you are in a bi-national relationship- just keep the faith, one day our country will love us back!

This story was written by: Eric- (California) and Neto – Hervatska (Croatia)

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Yousif Ali and Nawfal Muhamed – Asylum from Iraq to US

Posted on February 13, 2010. Filed under: Stories - from other sites |

After being kidnapped and raped in their home country, two gay Iraqis seek safety in Houston. But even in the land of the free, life isn’t easy
By David Taffet

Yousif Ali, 24, and Nawfal Muhamed, 20, are safe in Houston. But life is difficult.
The two have been denied food stamps. Jobs are not easy to find. The Sharpstown neighborhood where they live is dangerous. Neither man speaks English well. And the American relief agency that helps refugees has no services for gay men.

But all that aside, the two gay Iraqi refugees have asylum status and are safer here than they were in Iraq.

In Baghdad, Ali was kidnapped and raped. His boyfriend was murdered.
“Kidnapped many times,” Ali said. “I tried to escape. They put knife in my foot.”
He blamed the Mahdi Militia.

After escaping, he said, he called an Iraqi LGBT group in London. They told him to go to Syria and contact the United Nations. He made it to Syria by bus.
He said there are checkpoints every mile of the trip.

“If they think you are gay, they tell you ‘Go out from the car.’ Take them to unknown place and disappear,” Ali said.

He said that life in Iraq is difficult for everyone because of the war. But for those who are gay, life is intolerable.

Living on savings in Syria, Ali rented a room. He met Muhamed, who had escaped to Damascus when he was 16. He also wanted to move to the west, but was afraid to go to the U.N. office to request refugee status. Although his life was in constant danger in Iraq, he was afraid of U.N. forces that he thought would abuse him if he told them he is gay.

Muhamed’s parents were dead. His brother and sister know he is gay but he is not close to them. He has a boyfriend who is still in Iraq. In Syria he had another boyfriend who is also still there, but he said that one is bisexual and felt safe.

Ali’s family does not know he’s gay. They think a bomb caused the wounds to his foot and that he came to the United States to receive medical treatment. They do not know about the kidnappings.

Ali was granted refugee status first and given asylum in the United States. About seven months ago, he was given a plane ticket through London to Houston. He said he is paying back the airline fare, $35 a month. Muhamed arrived a month later. In his application, Muhamed said he had a friend in Houston. He begged them to send him to Texas, but instead he was given a ticket to Nashville.

“Catholic Charities and U.N. separated us,” Mohamed said. He said that their refugee services only help families, not singles.

Bruce Knotts is the executive director of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations office. He said theirs is the only faith-based U.N. office with full-time staff advocating for LGBT rights. He is familiar with Ali and Muhamed’s case.

Once certified by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, they were resettled, Knotts said. The United States has accepted those seeking asylum based on sexual orientation since a law passed during the Bush administration that was introduced by Rep. Barney Frank.

Knotts said that the United States takes in more refugees than all other countries combined, but that Canada does a better job taking in LGBT asylum-seekers.
Catholic Charities provides many of the services in this country for refugees and is funded through the federal government. Their Web site says they provide “Apartment rent and furnishings.” Ali said that their Iraqi neighbors in Houston got both. He was given a bare apartment. Knotts agrees that Catholic Charities offers families services and provides for basic needs that they have denied the gay men.

When Muhamed arrived in the United States, he was assigned a straight roommate in Nashville. So he contacted Ali and bought a bus ticket to Houston where the two were reunited.

Life in Houston has been difficult. Ali said that he was given food stamps when he first came to this country but then the food stamps were cut off and does not know why. He has reapplied.

The only job he has gotten was working in a warehouse two hours a day. The job was a long drive from his apartment, and it cost more to commute than he was being paid. He’s looking for full-time work.

Knotts explained that the food stamps were cut off when Ali got the part-time job. He said one of the things the men need is someone who can help walk them through the system and advise them about getting job training and full-time work.

Muhamed said he would like to find employment but he has never worked. “Only high school,” he said. Ali explained that Muhamed has never worked before. While in high school he was kidnapped and raped and fled to Syria where he lived for four years and was not allowed to work.

Their Houston neighborhood is dangerous. Sharpstown has a large Iraqi immigrant population. Knotts said the two men are still living among the same people who tormented them in Iraq. At the Creating Change conference in Dallas last weekend, Knotts said they connected the two men with a Unitarian church in Houston and the Houston GLBT Community Center.

Knotts said, “They need friends.”

He emphasized they are here legally and need help applying for their green cards because both are eligible to work. They need someone to help them access the language classes, vocational training and other services the federal government funds Catholic Charities to provide to refugees. And, he said, they need to move to a gay-friendly neighborhood.

This story is located at:
http://www.dallasvoice.com/artman/publish/article_12485.php

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Jojo Jako Yakob – Assylum from Syria to UK

Posted on February 13, 2010. Filed under: Stories - from other sites |

Death sentence: gay Syrian teenager facing deportation
By Kurt Bayer

HIS only crime was to be gay. For that he was half-drowned, brutally beaten and then fell into a coma. He survived, escaped from jail, fled his country and eventually arrived, exhausted and bedraggled, here in Scotland. And now the Government wants to send him back.

Syrian Jojo Jako Yakob last night pleaded with the Home Office to reverse a deportation order and spare him the certain death he believes he will face if he returns to his country. “I wish to claim asylum and I wish to stay here in Scotland,” he said.

Gay rights activists demanded that homosexuals, such as Yakob, who were facing clear persecution in their homeland, should be granted asylum. But a spokesman for the Syrian Embassy responded by describing homosexuality as a “disease”, which the country sought to “treat”.

The 19-year-old is now to embark on a landmark legal challenge in order to reverse the deportation order so he can spend the rest of his life in Scotland.

Yakob fled his homeland two years ago after managing to survive a harrowing ordeal at the hands of Syrian police and prison guards, when he was arrested for distributing anti-government leaflets.

Following his transfer from police interrogation, prison guards soon discovered that Yakob, a member of the repressed Kurdish minority in the Arab state, was homosexual. He then suffered horrific beatings and was assaulted so badly that he fell into a coma. After being transferred to hospital, he managed to flee to Lebanon making for London, holed up in a lorry.

He applied for asylum and was granted extended leave by the Home Office, but was then arrested in Aberdeen last April after being found in possession of a fake Belgian passport. He was handed a 12-month sentence and sent to Polmont Young Offenders Unit in Falkirk.

His lawyers say his asylum application was then mistakenly withdrawn and, as a result, he has been served with a deportation order, pending a final hearing this May.

If unsuccessful, he will be sent back to Syria. He has been kept at Polmont as a remand prisoner until that date.

His case mirrors that of gay Iranian teenager Mehdi Kazemi, 19, who was this week allowed to stay in Britain after claims that he would be executed if returned to his homeland.

Now, while detained at Polmont, Yakob has appealed against a Home Office deportation order and has instructed top Scottish QC, Mungo Bovey, to fight his case.

Yakob is terrified of being returned to Syria, where homosexuality is illegal, and believes that if he returns, he faces certain death.

Speaking from Polmont last night, Yakob explained why he fears a return to his homeland. “I wish to seek asylum in the UK for a number of reasons,” he said.

“My father is a politician with the Yakiti Party – pro-Kurdish and anti-government. I was arrested when I was 15 years of age for possession of anti-government material. These were basic leaflets for my father’s political party.

“My father was imprisoned before I left Syria for 13 years for anti-government activity.”

Of his arrest, he added: “I was then tortured. I was beaten. At one point I was put up against a wall and a handgun pointed at me. I was told that if I did not tell the authorities what they wanted to know they would shoot me dead. I did not tell them anything, I did not think they would shoot me.

“The police officer then shot me in my upper left arm. At that point, I told them what they wanted to know as I believed that they would shoot me dead.”

Yakob says he was held in police cells for 20 days without charge and subjected to daily electric shock torture and beatings before being transferred to Ahdas Prison, by the Turkish border.

In prison, he formed a relationship with a gay prisoner named Hassain. Yakob explained: “Hassain was serving a sentence, he told me, for 25 years. He told me that the sentence was only because he was gay.

“The Syrian government claim that they do not imprison people any longer for being gay and that in any event the maximum sentence is three years. This is not true. The Syrian authorities will always find other charges to bring against a person.”

After the pair were seen sleeping together in jail, Yakob said he was subjected to systematic beatings, which “went on for days into weeks”.

He added: “This was all because I was gay. No questions were asked of me about my father’s political party or any other political activity. All the questions related to me being gay.

“I was also subjected to cold-water torture, where I was put in a room and buckets of cold water were constantly thrown over me. I could not remember what day it was or how long I had been in prison.

“One day I woke up in hospital in a nearby town of Kamishli. The doctor who was treating me told me that I had been in a coma for 20 days. He said to the authorities that I could not return to prison as I was not fit and I could not stand trial until I had had a rest. He suggested that I be sent home for recuperation.”

Yakob then decided to flee to the UK. “I went home and after two weeks or so I was feeling better. By that time I had decided that the only option I had was to leave Syria. I left Syria and in 20 days or so arrived in the UK by lorry at Dover. I wish to claim asylum and I wish to stay here in Scotland.”

News of Yakob’s case last night sparked outrage among Scotland’s gay rights and equality groups.

Stonewall director Calum Irving said: “We have serious concerns about the UK’s immigration policy, especially since it appears that people are being sent back to countries where their safety is not guaranteed and where they could be persecuted just for being gay.”

A spokeswoman for Edinburgh-based Equality Network added: “I feel that we shouldn’t be sending people back to countries where they will be persecuted, even if they entered the country illegally.”

But a spokesman for the Syrian Embassy in London denied last night that torture of gay people took place. He said: “Homosexuality is illegal in Syria, but there are no special units to deal with this problem.

“People are not prosecuted – society looks at this as a disease for which they can be treated – it is a similar position to that taken by the Vatican. I cannot give a clearer answer.”

Yakob will appear before a full immigration hearing in Glasgow on May 7 to determine his fate. Yakob claims that he wants to start a new life in Scotland.

He said: “If I was to return to Syria, I would either be returned to jail for my political activities, for having left the country and being gay, or alternatively I would be put into the army for the three-year period.

“It is likely that they would put me into the army on the basis that the army would kill me one way or the other.”

This story is located at:
http://scotlandonsunday.scotsman.com/latestnews/Death-sentence-gay-Syrian-teenager.3883009.jp

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Mehre Palzanova – Assylum from Turkmenistan

Posted on February 13, 2010. Filed under: Stories - from other sites |

America as a lesbian safe haven?

By Catherine Price

According to asylum seekers, it’s better to be a lesbian in the U.S. than in most other places in the world.

Maybe I’ve become too cynical, but when I think about places that are friendly to lesbians and gays, the United States — politically, at least — doesn’t top my list. But unfortunately, much of the rest of the world is even worse than we are. An article from Women’s eNews reports that “confronted with barriers to legal U.S. immigration, a small number of foreign lesbians are seeking safety through political asylum.”

The article reports on several cases, such as that of Mehre Palzanova (a pseudonym), an immigrant from Turkmenistan living in New York and the first lesbian from Turkmenistan to be granted political asylum in the United States. When asked about whether she would participate in New York’s Gay Pride Parade, she responded, “If they let me walk with them, I will walk with them. I could never be so proud or so out in my country. And it’s not going to happen any time soon.”

Palzanova lost her job in Turkmenistan because of her sexual orientation and was blacklisted by the government to prevent her from finding another. According to eNews, her father lost a promotion and her family tried to force her to marry. And when the family arguments grew violent, the article reports, police did nothing to help her.

Palzanova’s arrival in America touches on several immigration issues. First, the number of gay men seeking asylum in the United States far outnumbers that of gay women — according to the Asylum Documentation Program of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, 62 lesbians have been allowed to stay in the United States since 1994 (out of 435 inquiries), as opposed to 643 gay men (out of 4,134 inquiries). The article points out that this discrepancy may partially be due to the fact that most persecution of lesbians happens in private at the hands of family members, and “is similar to domestic violence.” Gay men, on the other hand, are more likely to be persecuted by “authorities.” (Interestingly, though, women make up only 37 percent of all asylum requests, according to the Department of Homeland Security. And to put these numbers in context, in 2005 alone, 25,000 people were granted asylum — so homophobes needn’t worry about a “gay wave.”)

The gays and lesbians who are granted political asylum also highlight an unfair aspect of America’s immigration policy: The United States doesn’t recognize same-sex couples for immigration purposes. That means that gays and lesbians can’t sponsor foreign partners, which puts them at a serious disadvantage to heterosexual couples when it comes to bringing loved ones into the country. According to eNews, in 2006 “approximately 27 percent of the total grants of permanent residency were awarded to members of a heterosexual couple.” That policy no doubt contributes to the fact that, according to an immigration policy analyst at Queers for Economic Justice in New York quoted in the article, 40,000 same-sex partners are living in the United States without proper documentation.

I was raised to think of America as a place where people can come to escape persecution and be allowed to live their lives as themselves without fear of punishment. I hope that Palzanova has that experience. But I also know that when it comes to gay and lesbian rights, we have a hell of a long way to go. Here’s hoping that we start taking more steps in that direction so that the phrase “liberty and justice for all” isn’t just a nice thing to say when you’re hoisting up the flag.

This story is located at:
http://www.salon.com/life/broadsheet/2007/06/26/lesbian_safehaven/index.html

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Pape Mbaye – Senegalese immigrant, West Africa

Posted on February 10, 2010. Filed under: Stories - from other sites |

Persecuted in Africa, Finding Refuge in New York
October 6, 2008
By KIRK SEMPLE and LYDIA POLGREEN

Pape Mbaye gets a lot of attention. Even in jaded New York, people watch the way he walks (his style defines the word sashay) and scrutinize his outfits, which on a recent afternoon featured white, low-slung capris, a black purse, eyeliner and diamond-studded jewelry.

And he likes it.

“I’m fabulous,” he said. “I feel good.”

Mr. Mbaye, 24, is an entertainer from Dakar, Senegal, known there for his dancing, singing and storytelling. But while his flamboyance may be celebrated in New York, he attracted the wrong kind of attention in West Africa this year, and it nearly cost him his life.

In February, a Senegalese magazine published photographs of what was reported to be an underground gay marriage and said that Mr. Mbaye, who appeared in the photos and is gay himself, had organized the event. In the ensuing six months, Mr. Mbaye said, he was harassed by the police, attacked by armed mobs, driven from his home, maligned in the national media and forced to live on the run across West Africa.

In July, the United States government gave him refugee status, one of the rare instances when such protection has been granted to a foreigner facing persecution based on sexual orientation. A month later, Mr. Mbaye arrived in New York, eventually moving into a small furnished room in the Bronx that rents for $150 per week. It has a bed, air-conditioner, television, cat and pink walls.

“There’s security, there’s independence, there’s peace,” he said of his new country.

But even as he has begun looking for work, with the help of a few Senegalese immigrants he knows from Dakar, Mr. Mbaye is largely avoiding the mainstream Senegalese community, fearing that the same prejudices that drove him out of Africa may dog him here.

One recent evening, while visiting close family friends from Dakar who live in Harlem, he recalled a shopping trip to 116th Street, where many Senegalese work and live. There, he said, he was harassed by a Senegalese man who ridiculed Mr. Mbaye’s outfit and threatened him.

“He said, ‘If you were in Senegal, I would kill you,’ ” Mr. Mbaye said, gesturing with his arms, his voice rising. “I have my freedom now, and that man wanted to take it.”

The United States does not track how often it grants refuge to people fleeing anti-gay persecution. But Christopher Nugent, an immigration lawyer with Holland & Knight, a Washington law firm where he is a senior pro bono counsel specializing in refugee and asylum cases, said that in the past decade he has heard of only a handful.

The government also does not track the number of persecuted gay men and lesbians who are granted asylum, but experts in the field say the number is higher than those granted refugee status. (Asylum is granted to people already in the United States, while people outside the country must seek refugee status.)

Mr. Mbaye’s case was exceptional because his fame made his situation particularly perilous, said Mr. Nugent, who represented Mr. Mbaye in his petition. “He was vilified in the Senegalese media as being the face of the sinful homosexual, and he had scars to show,” he said.

For the past few years, anti-gay hysteria has been sweeping across swaths of Africa, fueled by sensationalist media reports of open homosexuality among public figures and sustained by deep and abiding taboos that have made even the most hateful speech about gays not just acceptable but almost required. Gay men and women have recently been arrested in Cameroon, Nigeria, Uganda and Ghana, among other countries.

“In most countries there is poverty and instability, and usually homosexuality is used as a way of shifting the attention from the actual problem to this thing that is not really the problem but can distract the public,” said Joel Nana, who is from Cameroon and who works for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

Pape Mbaye (pronounced POP mm-BYE) had been living the Senegalese version of the high life for some time. He worked principally as a griot — a singer and storyteller invited to weddings, birthday parties and other events to perform traditional songs, dance and tell stories.

By West African standards, it earned him a good living. He had performed at parties for wealthy and famous Senegalese, had two cars and a driver, an overflowing wardrobe and an apartment in a fashionable neighborhood decked out with rococo gold-leaf-encrusted furniture.

Mr. Mbaye, who said he had known he was gay from a young age, seldom tried to hide his sexuality, often wearing makeup and jewelry in public.

Though Senegal passed an antisodomy law in 1965 that forbids “an improper or unnatural act with a person of the same sex,” homosexuality has traditionally been quietly tolerated in Senegal, particularly among the creative class of musicians and artists that is so central to Senegalese culture.

But the publication of the gay wedding photos on Feb. 1 dovetailed with a recent surge in anti-gay sentiment, a trend partly fueled by some conservative Islamic leaders, sending Mr. Mbaye on his harrowing odyssey.

On the morning after the article’s publication, Mr. Mbaye and several gay friends were arrested by the police, who held them for four days. During his detention, Mr. Mbaye said, he was questioned about his participation in the marriage ceremony, which he asserted was a party, not a wedding. Under diplomatic pressure from the Netherlands and Denmark, the Senegalese authorities released Mr. Mbaye and his friends.

The singer said the police told him and his friends that they should go into hiding. “The police cannot guarantee your security because the entire society will be out to get you,” a police official said, according to testimony that Mr. Mbaye would later give to Human Rights Watch.

While he was in detention, his apartment was looted and anti-gay graffiti was scrawled on the wall of the building, he said. He and several gay friends fled to Ziguinchor in south Senegal, but in mid-February, a mob wielding broken bottles, forks and other weapons stormed the house and beat them, Mr. Mbaye said.

Mr. Mbaye spent the next several weeks moving from one safe house to another before fleeing to Gambia on May 11. Several days later, President Yahya Jammeh of Gambia vowed to behead all homosexuals in his country. Mr. Mbaye immediately returned to Dakar.

But he was discovered and chased by a crowd, as local news media reported his return. He sought sanctuary at the offices of Raddho, a human rights organization based in Dakar, which put him in the care of Human Rights Watch.

“I am like a hunted animal,” Mr. Mbaye said during an interview while he hid out in a Dakar hotel.

Human Rights Watch helped Mr. Mbaye assemble his refugee application and get to Ghana, where he sought help from the American Embassy in Accra, the country’s capital.

While in Ghana, Mr. Mbaye said, he was attacked again, this time by knife-wielding Senegalese expatriates who had discovered he was there. The assault, which left him with wounds, probably accelerated the review process for his application, Mr. Nugent said. (Confidentiality regulations forbid United States immigration officials from discussing the case.)

Mr. Mbaye received his refugee status on July 31, and he arrived at Kennedy Airport on Aug. 18 carrying several suitcases and a Chanel handbag. A few weeks later, he received his Social Security card and work authorization permit. He hopes to resume his career, though he acknowledges that until he improves his English, he will have to perform in French and Wolof, an African language. He also dreams of getting a modeling contract.

In the meantime, he said, he will do just about anything.

“I would like a job in a restaurant or a hotel or a club or in perfume or in makeup,” he said. “But no bricklaying.”

Mr. Nugent has been posting notices on Internet mailing lists serving the gay community in search of sponsors to help Mr. Mbaye find work, including in gay nightclubs.

Mr. Mbaye seems undaunted. At his friends’ home in Harlem, he celebrated his newfound freedom.

“I want to live with the gays!” he said as his hosts laughed. “Pape Mbaye is American!”

Kirk Semple reported from New York and Lydia Polgreen from Dakar, Senegal.

This story is located at:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/06/nyregion/06pape.html?%2334;same-sex=&_r=4&sq=&st=nyt&oref=slogin&%2334;=&scp=1&pagewanted=print

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