Wednesday, 31 August 2011

In Austria, support group forms for LGBT refugees

Negar Roubani at Vienna GayPride
Source: Die Standard

By Sandra Ernst Kaiser

[Via Google Translate]

"If I would live my homosexuality in Iran, there would be no second when I would not fear for my life," says Pedram Bashooki.
"Every meeting with another man, and especially any physical exchange with him, it could mean my death sentence." 
Bashooki's parents fled three years before the Iranian revolution in 1979. Gays are persecuted in Iran by the state, often ending their lives through a public execution. According to Amnesty International more than 4,000 gay men have been killed in Iran since 1979. Lesbian women are rejected by their families and society, losing their jobs or university places and often have to flee even before the violence in their families.

Iran is not the only country where homosexuality means persecution, torture and condemnation. Mauritania, [Northern] Nigeria, Sudan and Saudi Arabia has the death penalty for homosexuality enshrined in law, imprisonment in Angola or Malawi and different lengths of prison sentences in Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Libya, Indonesia, Pakistan - to name just a few countries in which they are named as "perverts", "sick" or "sinners". Worldwide there are 85 countries where homosexuals are persecuted by law. So people go on the run, and there starts the next gauntlet.

Many Iranians and Iraqis flee to Turkey. After the first interview with UNHCR they receive, unless they are not believed, the LGBTIQ refugee status. As of now it is usual to wait up to two years in Turkey for an entry visa to Austria. The problems for the refugees include violence from police and civilians. Because work is prohibited in Turkey LGBTIQ refugees often end up in prostitution because of the UN monthly hand out (converted) 70 € is not enough to live on.

As the Austro-Iranian Negar Roubani explained, her reason for flight was that her sexual orientation could not be concealed. In Turkey the refugees cannot stay in big cities, only in small towns where they are again exposed to homophobia and resentment. "They are like lepers, who nobody wants to touch. Their martyrdom unfortunately continues."

Last year the Oriental Queer Organisation Austria (ORQOA) was founded.

Originally it aimed to support the LGBTIQ migrant community in Austria, to reduce and combat discrimination. However, the organisation has become a focal point for people who are persecuted because of their sexual orientation in their home country, Roubani says.
"The group's existence has spread quickly. Via Facebook, email or by telephone contact, we get asked for help from their home countries  and especially from those when they land in Turkey."
There are worldwide only 15 countries where homosexual persons can apply for asylum - according to the human rights organisation International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA). About four-fifths of all persons affected by forced migration remain in their home regions. However, access to asylum in Europe is becoming more and more difficult. In Austria - where the asylum system is not known for its humanity - persecution based on sexual orientation can be considered as grounds for asylum.

Homosexuality as a "certain group"

Homosexuality in the Geneva Refugee Convention is not cited as a reason for asylum. Each application for asylum in Austria, says Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sonja Jell, is considered on a case by case examination of requests for international protection of the "alien" - as people are referred to in the asylum law.
"If the test shows that someone is persecuted for their sexual orientation in their home country, that person could get refugee status because of belonging to this 'specific group', as it is called in the Geneva Convention," Jell says. 
How many LGBTIQ refugees get asylum in Austria, Jell can not say. Protection of privacy under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, says Jell, means statistics cannot be gathered.

Roubani describes one of ORQOA's recent cases. Six months ago they were contacted by a gay Iraqi refugee who had been threatened in Iraq with a prison sentence. When he arrived in Austria, he was stuck for three months in detention. Since then, he ekes out his existence in the Tyrol, which compared to Vienna offers few opportunities for assistance and networking for gay refugees. The centralisation of LGBTIQ refugees in Vienna, is therefore a central concern of ORQOA.
"The people with whom we deal with are severely traumatised. Half of our clients have attempted suicide themselves. If they could live in Vienna, it would be better for them and for us," notes Roubani.
"Yasar must remain"

Meanwhile ORQOA has with other NGOs and organisations such TransX, Purple-Tip, Green-Andersrum and asylum-in-need together formed a network to offer these refugees help. The new team consists of psychologists, lawyers, interpreters and activists.
"With this merger, it was not about reinventing the wheel, but to pool our resources and our expert knowledge as a loose network," says Roubani. 
Rally for Yasar 8 June
The initiative followed the joint fight for transgender Turkish asylum seeker Yasar.

Sexological advice

A barrier for LGBTIQ refugees is the consideration of the credibility of their story. For Judges of the Asylum Court this advice on credibility applies as a criterion when it comes to a positive or a negative asylum decision, declared Roubani. This is a sexological opinion, in which "refugees answers need to to go into the most private and intimate detail. For the traumatised people is an incredible ordeal." Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sonja Jell however denied this report and stressed that the support staff of the Federal Asylum Office properly consider the credibility of gay refugees. Roubani argues, sexological report is "common practice and considered a prerequisite for the credibility of gay asylum seekers."

If there is a lack of credibility about the sexual orientation of a refugeee, these reports, among others, are for people like John Wahala, sex therapist and director of the counseling center courage, to create. In an interview with the German newspaper "Zeit" , he describes how difficult it is for persecuted homosexuals to accept their homosexuality and to gain self-confidence. Homosexuality was considered previously as a death sentence, it can now mean their freedom. Roubani also knows about this report.
"There is an enormous hurdle, 'I'm gay' or 'I'm gay' to say after that had to continually be denied. But that's what the [system needs to hear]."
"Foreigners and Gay"

When Lesbians or gay men get asylum in Austria, they may still not be lulled into security. Pedram Bashooki, not a refugee but even with the stigma that "foreigners and gay" bear can tell many stories of harassment against him.
"This began in school. Today, the insults are against me instead of on the road," he says with a quiet voice. "A moment that is unfortunately repeated that: .. I'm sitting in the tram and ride past the hateful advertising posters of the Freedom Party to sit the same time as me against young people who insult each other with the word 'gay' Great day, I think to myself then. "
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