Friday 3 June 2011

In Cyprus, an Iranian lesbian refugee struggles for sanctuary

The flag of Cyprus shows a map of the country ...Image via Wikipedia
By Paul Canning

Cyprus has come under increasing criticism for its treatment of refugees, especially of Iranians. In April a group of allegedly illegally detained asylum seekers went on hunger strike. Last month there were protests at Cypriot embassies. Cyprus has one of the highest rates per capita of asylum seekers in the EU, however these numbers have been described as a 'quirk'. It also has one of the lowest acceptance rates in the EU for asylum claims.

Now the IRQR reports that the Cyprus government has rejected an asylum claim by an Iranian lesbian because she had been married and 'could therefore not be a lesbian.'.

Mandana fled Iran in June 2008 and a few days after her arrival, she was called for her only interview with the office of the Ministry of Asylum Service of the Republic of Cyprus.

The interview was conducted by a female officer and the interpreter was an Iranian man. In an email to the IRQR, Mandana wrote:
“I found out later that the interpreter is not professionally certified for this important matter, he is constantly travelling to Iran and he has a close relationship with the Iranian Embassy in Nicosia. When I said I was a lesbian, they both laughed and told me to go back to my country and hide myself, since, in their words, ‘we do not have any lesbians in Cyprus.’”
Problems with interpreters in LGBT asylum cases have been reported throughout the world, including with Iranians in Turkey, the main destination for LGBT Iranian refugees.

Her application was rejected just a few days after her interview. She received no further information or support on matters such as how to appeal or what her rights were. After paying legal fees for an appeal and following her asylum case for almost a year, she was finally able to obtain a representative from KISA (Κίνηση για Ισότητα, Στήριξη, Αντιρατσισμό, Action For Equality, Support, Antiracism), a non-profit human rights advocacy group in Cyprus. Her case has been pending now for almost three years at the Refugee Reviewing Authority, the office responsible for examining her appeal against the decision of the Asylum Service.

In August 2010, KISA sent a letter of complaint to the Interior Minister, the Asylum Service, and the Refugee Reviewing Authority regarding the unprofessional and unlawful behaviour of the Asylum Service office during the course of Mandana's interview. KISA requested another hearing at the Refugee Reviewing Authority, but so far nothing has been granted.

Cyprus’s government services have very limited professional knowledge, training, or skills to deal with LGBT asylum seekers, according to IRQR. In November 2008, Mr. Abbas Bagherian, a gay Iranian man, was at risk of deportation back to Iran. Following an international campaign, Mr. Bagherian was granted asylum.

Mandana was recently informed that her application has been rejected by the Asylum Service office again.  During a phone interview with the IRQR she said it was:
“Merely because I had been previously married and thus I could not possibly be a lesbian. But the Asylum Service Officer did not bother to ask me during my interview anything about my compulsory marriage in Iran. They have no idea how I was forced to get married two times by my family and that as a woman I had no rights to argue. Moreover, I could not tell them about my sexual orientation since I would have been killed immediately for keeping their honour.”
IRQR believe that the Refugee Reviewing Authority will approve the rejection of her application for asylum and that she will face removal back to Iran.

They add that at least two other Iranians face a similar situation in Cyprus. One has been rejected twice even though he has lived with his Cypriot partner for several years.

Mandana told IRQR:
“There is no visible queer community here in Cyprus. Queer people are extremely closeted and people are afraid of homosexuals. There are lots of sexist jokes, comments, and harassment targeted at queer people. There is no effective mechanism for claiming jobs lost as a result of sexual discrimination in the work place, we are condemned by the church, there is no same-sex marriage, etc., etc…. " 
"This attitude has negatively impacted on my claim and has deprived me of a lot. I feel I am in a prison, not in my own homophobic country, but in a so-called democratic and European country, just for being a lesbian.”
A survey released last month for IDAHO has Cyprus at the bottom of the list in Europe for its attitudes to LGBT.

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