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Gay Refugee Speaks

September 17th, 2007

Guest Slap

Edward Lee is a student of social work at McGill university, focusing on gay refugee and imigration issues. In Part II of his two-part series, Ed has asked Alvaro Orozco to share his story in his own words, and outlines what we can do to help.

Alvaro Orozco is a young gay man who fled Nicaragua and is seeking refugee status in Canada. For numerous reasons it is unsafe for him to be in Nicaragua, including recent media attention in his country of origin, and the fact that it is a punishable crime to be gay there.

After months of advocacy and community action, Alvaro received his latest Pre Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA) decision on Friday, September 14th. While the application was, again, rejected, Alvaro and his supporters were, fortunately, able to convince the immigration officials that he was not a flight risk and so he was allowed to go back to Toronto (versus getting arrested or deported immediately). The reasons behind the rejection included that the letters of support are “hearsay” and do not provide solid proof that Alvaro is in fact gay, and that Nicaragua is a safeplace because there are many cruising spaces, like parks and ruins where people can have gay sex.

Alvaro now is under a new deportation order for October 4th. Please read Alvaro’s thoughts on what is happening in this article and help him stay in Canada.

I asked Alvaro to write—from his own perspective—about what happened to him and the decision from the IRB. Here is what he had to say:

The Canadian immigration re-sent the letter from the old PRRA decision
of 2005 as my new decision for 2007 (9th august). In 2005, I used to have a different lawyer and I had lost my case. My new lawyer is El-farouk Khaki, who sent 3 months ago 2 new applications, the Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA) and the Humanitarian and Compassionate grounds application for a stay. Immigration told my lawyer that they had no record of him sending anything. so then immigration called my lawyer and told him that they want to give me one more time until the august 28. but on the 26th (2 days before the deadline), immigration called my lawyer telling him that they have the new application decision of the PRRA of 2007,
but I have to show up in Niagara falls on august 28 to pick up the
decision. And as i am not feeling well and my stress levels and anxiety are affecting my health, my doctor advised me not to go, so I didn’t show up.

one week after that, immigration called my lawyer and told him that
they issued a new date for me to show up to pick up the decision and that is on september 14, this is the 3rd time that immigration are dealing with this application, is clear what they are willing to do with me. to take me away from Canada.

my message:

Before I filed my case, I was hoping that I can be granted status in this country because this country is a model for human rights for many countries around the globe. But with the way things have happend, I feel disapointed and am struggling to get over it. This has affected me physically and emotionally. It is not fair the amount of struggles I had since I was a kid and that I never really had a normal life, and I escaped from many countries hoping to find freedom and respect in Canada. But now I am facing this situation where I am being judged on my physical appearance by canadian immigration autorities, and they believe that my life is just a joke and I never been through this kind of life, but I’m a honest person and I always keep what I say and I always work for my dreams. I keep my self positive that better things will happen and I can get over this.

the most important:

the most important for me is not only win my case, it is that other
people who feel scared to speak out can have a voice and someone who can speak for them but not only people who just speak about immigration issues, but people who care about human rights, about peoples future and equal respect.

There is still something that you can do to help raise awareness about what is happening and help Alvaro to stay in Canada. Here is what you can do:

  1. Check out his website and read the latest press release
  2. E-mail and/or send a letter to Federal Immigration Minister Diane Finley at Finley.D@parl.gc.ca. Let the MP in your riding know what is going on and ask them how they will help Alvaro.
  3. Sign Alvaro’s online petition
  4. Keep talking about Alvaro with friends, family, media, join his facebook group, etc.
  5. E-mail Alvaro and help keep his spirits up!
  6. If you want to do more please contact Suhail at SOY Toronto

Thanks again to Ed for sharing his thoughts on this story, and his communications with Alvaro. If you would like to see more of Ed, check out his short film, Invisible Son, included as a special feature on the Margaret Cho Assassin DVD.

Related Update: Bruce at Canuck Attitude has dug up a story about a convicted criminal in Canada whose deportation ruling was reversed because he is in the midst of a “religious conversion.” In the meantime, Alvaro’s safety is in danger because he can’t prove he’s gay. Outrageous.

Gay Refugee Needs Urgent Support

September 14th, 2007

Guest Slap

Edward Lee is a student of social work at McGill university, focusing on gay refugee and imigration issues. In Part I of his two-part series, Ed has agreed to share his stories and insights on Alvaro Orozco, a gay refugee from Nicaragua, who faces immediate deportation from Canada and urgently needs our support.

Alvaro Orozco will be going to the immigration office, today, Friday, September the 14th, to pick up his rejection letter from IRB. That is the only way he can fight the rejection, but at the same time, in going to pick up the letter, he very much risks being put in jail, or worse, deported on the spot to the USA (and eventually Nicaragua). Your support and well wishes are needed now more than ever.

First of all, I would like to thank Mark for allowing me some space on his funky, yet timely website to talk about this important current event. I love your cartoons and your intellectual wit! [Aw, shucks. Thanks, Ed!]

I first met Alvaro when he arrived for the first ever North American Outgames in Calgary (April, 2007). We held a youth welcome event at Quickdraw Animation Society, as we invited all the youth that had been granted a bursary to attend the week long festivities—including Alvaro. He was so personable, gentle in a way, with eyes that spoke of a life of hardship and hope. Very clearly gay, he was excited to meet the other queer youth gathered at this event, happy to be among his peers. There was no doubt to Alvaro’s gayness. No doubt at all.

I got to know him as he attended the OutRights conference, OutFest cultural activities (PRIDE dance) and finally winning a medal at the OutGames, in the running event. By the time he flew back to Toronto, Alvaro become someone that I had come to admire and respect, someone who is so hopeful and optimistic about the world, even though the world has been so cruel to him.

The memory that will never leave me was hearing Alvaro speak at the Youth Roundtable that we held at the North American OutRights conference (held in Calgary prior to the OutGames). Some 40 youth leaders (and those involved with youth issues) were sitting around the table; teachers, lawyers, activists. Then there was Alvaro, with his limited english and shy demeanor, as he was introduced and began to speak of his experience as a gay refugee, traversing 4 different countries to end up in Canada, speaking at this conference to help save his life and be granted refugee status.

All of us sat there, intently listening as he very bravely told his story. He began his story with growing up in Nicaragua, being seen as gay, and the abuse inflicted upon him by his parents. As he spoke about this abuse, he broke down, and wept. Even though I was co-facilitating, I couldn’t help but weep with Alvaro. After what felt like a lifetime, he regained himself, and continued his story. As his right hand moved in a rolling, circular motion, as if to comfort and help him to continue, he spoke of escaping Nicaragua, then being in hiding in the US, sometimes with homophobic churches, and then coming to Canada. His face began to light up as he spoke of Canada, where he finally began to feel a sense of hope of being able to live in a country where it wasn’t illegal to be gay (it’s illegal to be gay in Nicaragua—meaning you can go to jail).

Sometimes, there are moments in your life that stick with you, that are burned in your memory, an emotional scar, for better or worse, will always be felt when you close your eyes and take yourself back to that memory. All of us at the roundtable were shell shocked as Alvaro took us on a virtual ride of his unimaginable, powerful life. This was one of those moments for me, one of the most powerful moments I have ever been a part of.

How sad it is that Calgary Immigration and Refugee Board adjudicator Deborah Lamont was so clearly lacking in sound and equitable judgement when back in February, at his first hearing, didn’t believe Alvaro’s story (read the Globe and Mail article for actual quotes of what she said). How utterly insane and incomprehensible it is that 6 months later, after articles various news media, press conferences, rallies, and Alvaro’s participation at the Outgames/fest/rights, the IRB (Immigration and Refugee Board) came back with the same negative response—re-inforcing Deborah Lamont’s heterosexist and unfair judgement. Alvaro’s last recourse is to be granted a stay from Immigration Minister Diane Finley based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

I can’t tell you how sad and upset this makes me. I only knew Alvaro for a week, but I saw someone who was so vulnerable, who had so many incredibly challenging life experiences, and yet, even with these hardships, he is someone who is so kind, so extremely open to others and hopeful about living life in this country, safe from persecution, safe from harm. As we speak, because of the IRB negative response, Alvaro is in fear of being deported, unable to work, relying on the generosity of others, not wanting to be deported to the US and eventually to Nicaragua.

As I write about this, there is still something that you can do to help raise awareness about what is happening and help Alvaro to stay in Canada. Here is what you can do:

  1. Check out his website and read the latest press release
  2. E-mail and/or send a letter to Federal Immigration Minister Diane Finley at Finley.D@parl.gc.ca. Let the MP in your riding know what is going on and ask them how they will help Alvaro.
  3. Sign Alvaro’s online petition
  4. Keep talking about Alvaro with friends, family, media, join his facebook group, etc.
  5. E-mail Alvaro and help keep his spirits up!
  6. If you want to do more please contact Suhail at SOY Toronto