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Sunday, 17 October 2010

Netherlands: promised land for gay refugees?

War-damaged houses in Hargeysa, a major city i...Image via Wikipedia  
Source: Radio Netherlands Worldwide

Arrests, torture and death threats. It is an all too familiar story for many refugees who flee their countries because they are homosexual. Those that come to the the Netherlands hope to find peace and a residence permit here. But their problems simply start all over again in the country's asylum centres, says 24-year-old Palestinian Aboutabdullah.

When a neighbour told Aboutabdullah's family he was gay, they locked him up. He managed to flee the house, only to be caught by his brother and uncle. They shot him in the legs. For Aboutabdullah, the time to leave his homeland, Jordan, had come.

So he headed for the gay-friendly Netherlands, which he had heard so much about on the internet. While he waited for a refugee residence permit, Aboutabdullah was placed in a asylum seekers' centre in the southern city of Eindhoven. But here, his torment just started all over again:

"They put me in a room with two or three straight guys [...] they all talk about girls and they all take marihuana sometimes. And when they knew I was gay they might try to have something [i.e. sex, ed.] with me and they might use bad word [...] Because in their religion I am shit, you know."

Aboutabdullah became a target for teasing and bullying by Muslim asylum seekers, and things soon went from bad to worse. A Somali man gave him a black eye. Another man threatened him with a knife in the bathroom. They were not even afraid of the guards:

"I was talking to a security guy; normal talk about the Netherlands and so on, and we were laughing. Then a Somali guy - this was during Ramadan - he said in Arabic: Hey gay, we're going to kill you. The security guy understood a bit of Arabic and he said: If you don't like gays, get out of the Netherlands. I'm also gay and if you don't like it, it's your problem. You have to respect us."

The security guard reported the incident to the head of the asylum centre, but nothing was done. Aboutabdullah was merely transferred elsewhere after he complained to the authorities in The Hague.

Aboutabdullah's story and those of many others like his led the Secret Garden Foundation, which helps homosexual refugees from non-Western countries, to raise the alarm in the political arena in The Hague. Today, 11 October, is national Coming Out Day, which this year has the theme of combating homophobic aggression and violence. The foundation believes gay refugees should be offered much safer accomodation.

Since the publicity about his story, Aboutabdullah has received regular invitations from people offering him a place to stay for a couple of nights. He often accepts the invitations while he waits for a decision on his case. But as bad as things may get here, he would rather die in the Netherlands than go back to Jordan.

Nevertheless he is still surprised:

"Here in The Netherlands, there's a big gay scene and [equal] rights...I don't know why I have this problem here. I shouldn't."
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