OK, kiddo! Here are all the fantastically amazing posts tagged with Refugees

Help Keep Alvaro Orozco In Canada

May 20th, 2011

Alvaro Orozco for Senate

Alvaro Orozco, a gay Nicaraguan who unsuccessfully attempted a refugee claim in 2007, was arrested late last week in Toronto while waiting for a bus on his way out to dinner with a friend. He’s now being held in detention without bail, and can be deported at any moment—unless he gets some serious community help.

I had posted several stories about Alvaro before he went into hiding, including a guest post (by proxy) from Alvaro himself. His story was typical for gay refugee claimants in Canada: He fled a country where homosexuality is illegal, but was denied refugee status because he wasn’t deemed gay enough by the adjudicator. Many refugee claimants are asked to provide impossible proof that they are gay, despite having to have hid all such evidence in their home country. In Alvaro’s case, the adjudicator questioned why he hadn’t actively sought out sexual partners while he was travelling up to Canada through the States. He was 14 at the time.

Since arriving in Canada, Alvaro has established himself in Toronto as a photographer, artist, and activist. Now 25, he has been hiding from immigration while awaiting the status on his last-resort Humanitarian and Compassionate application. This arrest puts his entire future in jeopardy, particularly since his story has already reached mainstream Nicaraguan newspapers and homosexuality, while now legal there, is widely not accepted..

Alvaro’s future can be influenced by community support, but we need to take action now. If you have a few seconds right now, please sign this online petition to Let Alvaro Stay in Canada. (Believe it or not, in refugee cases, community support like this can actually have a strong influence on the outcome.) Also, you can join the Let Alvaro Stay Facebook page where information about events and other avenues of support are posted. A lot of his personal friends are there too, so you can learn more about Alvaro’s story, his artwork, and community activities while you’re there.

Me, I’ll be pushing for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to give Alvaro a seat in the Canadian Senate. As you already know, many Canadians who have run into trouble with the law or have been rejected by voters (and thus society in general), have been appointed to the senate where they can safely sleep serve until they reach the age of 75—with a generous salary to boot. Normally I’d say this would be a long shot but, considering recent senate appointees… Alvaro’s head and shoulders above the lot of them.

Of course, whatever happens, we’re thinking of you, Alvaro!

Jason Kenney Announces Fund For Gay Refugees

March 28th, 2011

A man mistakes his life-sized Disney villain cutout for Jason Kenney.

Less than a day before the Canadian government was (expectedly) defeated in a vote of non-confidence, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced that $100,000 would be available to the Rainbow Refugee Committee, an organisation dedicated to assisting gay refugees.

Canada’s record is not good when it comes to accommodating refugees persecuted in their home countries simply for their sexual orientation. Many of these refugees are fleeing nations that imprison gay people—or worse, leaving very few avenues for escape other than through the refugee system.

Thursday’s announcement was a welcome surprise, but also a suspicious one. Jason Kenney has an atrocious record when it comes to recognizing the equal rights of GLBT citizens. Just last month, for example, he voted against a bill that would forbid discrimination in housing and employment for trans Canadians. He also repeatedly ignored pleas regarding individual gay refugee cases despite numerous concerns about the procedures that these refugee seekers have had to endure. It’s not unusual, for example, for adjudicators to require impossible proof that a refugee is gay, even though claimants had to hide such evidence at all costs in their home countries. It’s doubly unfortunate that claiming they’re gay as part of the refugee process also leaves them vulnerable to severe punishment should they be deported back home instead of accepted as a refugee.

The Rainbow Refugee Committee deserves the funding that was announced, and I hope they get it—no matter which party forms our next government. That said, a single token announcement doesn’t make up for Kenney’s past actions.

Considering that this announcement is probably the result of months-long talks that easily overlapped with Kenney’s vote against equal rights for trans Canadians last month, this is likely just a token gesture—a sad example of electioneering to get some GLBT votes for a party that doesn’t deserve it.

Czechs End Phallometric Testing For Gay Refugees

December 17th, 2010

A scientist shows a picture of an emu to a man hooked up to brain monitoring equipment.

The Czech Republic has announced that they will stop hooking up gay refugee claimants to a penile plethysmograph and showing them heterosexual porn. The procedure, dubbed “phallometric testing,” which works in exactly the way it sounds, was used to czech if claimants were gay or not. The idea was that if a guy is measurably aroused by straight porn, then he’s not gay.

Say, here’s a flaw: Heterosexual porn still has guys in it. Just sayin’.

Efficacy aside, The European Agency for Fundamental Rights slammed the test in a report last month, calling it humiliating and potentially in violation of human rights clauses banning inhumane treatment. The agency suggested a slightly less novel replacement: An interview. (Don’t let the word fool you; inter-views aren’t as high tech or expensive as they sound.)

Phallometric testing, incidentally, was invented in Czechoslovakia in the early 1950s.

They must be very proud.

(Hat tip to Slap Reader Chris for the story.)

Canada To Deport Another Gay Refugee Claimant

May 21st, 2010

To prove one's gayness, one must identify a ridiculous object

A 29-year-old gay man is going to be deported from Canada to Iran, where he could face death by stoning for charges of sodomy. The young man, identified only as Yaser, had his deportation ordered after the Immigration Refugee Board determined that he could not be gay because he could not identify the rainbow flag and didn’t attend a Pride parade.

While I certainly don’t have enough information to personally conclude if Yaser is gay or not, I can say for certain that the IRB’s methods are presumptuous and seriously flawed. Either that, or I guess I wasn’t gay all those years that I didn’t attend Pride.

Canada’s record of accommodating gay refugees is atrocious, and is getting worse with each case. The board often declines refugees for failing to prove they are gay—a trait they had gone to great extends to hide in their home country. The inability to deal with gay refugee cases sensitively isn’t just Canada’s problem, either. Kiana Firouz, a 27-year-old lesbian is also fighting a deportation order from the United Kingdom to Iran, where she faces death by hanging for being gay.

Lesbian Refugee Fleeing U.S. Army Gets Second Chance

November 23rd, 2009

Uncle Sam's a jerk

Bethany Smith, a lesbian seeking refugee status in Canada from the U.S., will get a second chance to have her case heard by the Immigration and Refugee Board after the Federal Court ruled that her previous plea was wrongfully dismissed.

Bethany, a 21 year old U.S. soldier, fled the U.S. in September 2007 over the institutionalized homophobia in the country’s army. Bethany says that other soldiers discovered she was a lesbian after seeing her hold hands with another woman at a shopping mall. Gays and lesbians are forbidden to serve openly in the U.S. army, so this information was used to harass, blackmail, and threaten her with violence—with no available recourse in the army’s administration.

The Immigration and Refugee Board originally rejected Bethany’s case in February, but will now give her a second chance with a different adjudicator. The Federal Court says the IRB should have taken into account “the particular environment” at Bethany’s Kentucky army base, including information that a gay man was murdered there in 1999 by fellow soldiers as he slept.

Considering Canada’s abysmal record on these sorts of cases, I don’t know how much of a chance Bethany has of getting full refugee status. Still, I wish her the best, as well as the speedy turfing of the U.S’s terrible Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and other forms of institutionalized homophobia!

Refugee Appeal Bill Mysteriously Dumped

June 26th, 2009

If you think Mr. Villainfurnace is bad, try Count Horrorcastle Von Evilterror A bill that would have set up an appeal process for refugees who think they have been unfairly rejected has been quietly abandoned. Bill C-291, which passed second reading this spring, has since been parked without additional debate after being forwarded to a Citizenship and Immigration committee. Now that summer is here, the bill has been effectively killed, left languishing on the table. Bill C-291  is of particular importance to gay refugees, as Canada has a terrible record of handling gay claimants. Those seeking to gain refuge from countries where homosexuality is illegal are often asked for exhaustive evidence of their gayness despite a pressing need to have hid all such evidence for their own safety. It’s not all bad, though; as consolation, rejected claimants are given a complimentary copy of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22.

Anti-Gay IRB Appointee Won’t Help Matters

March 23rd, 2009

Mr. Wigglesworth won't let his bias affect his work too much, though.

Well, Canada’s already abysmal record in dealing with gay refugee claimants probably isn’t going to get better.

Doug Cryer, the former director of public policy for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, has been appointed to Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board by the Conservative government. Cryer, who says that all gay people are inherently sinful, will now decide if gay refugees will be allowed to stay in Canada to avoid persecution of homosexuality in their home countries.

Canada is habitually unaccommodating of gay refugees, often requiring exhaustive proof of homosexuality from claimants who have had to spend their whole lives hiding it from oppressive governments. Many countries criminalize gay people, with sentences ranging from fines, to incarceration, to death. While keeping an eye out for anyone who would falsely claim to be gay is important, many of Canada’s past deportation decisions have been catastrophes.

With Cryer’s appointment, legitimate concerns of anti-gay bias are overshadowing the even bigger issue: Cryer has absolutely no experience with refugee matters. Luckily, I know of an excellent accelerated training strategy: Deportation to the Kingdom of Gaybonia.

Yet Another Gay Refugee To Be Deported

January 5th, 2009

They like to make it extra formal

Yep; I’ve lost count.

Samuel Kyambadde, a gay, African refugee claimant, has been denied a home in Canada and will be deported back to Uganda where homosexuality is illegal.

Samuel is one of many delegates who came to Canada for the International AIDS Conference in 2006 and then applied for refugee status. Unlike most claimants, however, Samuel based his claim on the fact that he is gay and therefore faces persecution if he returns to Africa. The Immigration and Refugee Board rejected the plea because they said Samuel “lacked credibility.”

Gay claimants are particularly unlucky in obtaining refugee status in Canada. Possibly due to scattered fake gay claims, Canadian officials appear to require substantial evidence of the claimants’ sexual orientation—a trait that must be carefully hidden in many claimants’ home country to avoid persecution. It’s a no-win situation, and something that Immigration Minister Diane Finley has been happy to avoid addressing.

If you’d like to write Diane Finley, she may be reached at Finley.D@parl.gc.ca. You won’t get so much as a form reply from her office, but perhaps if she gets enough emails, she’ll actually create one with which she can dismiss all our pleas in the future.

Update: Slap reader Matthew writes in to say that, apparently, Diane Finley hasn’t been our immigration minister since October, and it is now Jason Kenney. How embarrassing! These things change too frequently; if only there were a way to completely freeze parliament and make sure nothing changes in Canadian politics… Oh wait.

Holy Crap! Canada Accepts Gay Refugee!

October 1st, 2008

The Immigration and Refugee Board has decided not to deport Ismail Mulawa, a gay refugee claimant from Uganda.

(Parenthetically, sorry for the somewhat unrelated illustration today; I just hadn’t really prepared anything to draw in this situation.)

Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda, so when Mulawa came to Canada for the 2006 International AIDS Conference, he skipped his flight back home, claiming refugee status. Several conference attendees had seeked asylum once arriving in Canada, but not all that based their claim on being gay have had much luck. Canada has an abysmal record when it comes to dealing with gay refugees, often burdening claimants with providing substantial proof of their homosexuality—despite them having had to hide all traces of it from previous governments. Thankfully, Refugee Board member Tom Pinkney sympathized with Mulawa’s situation. Mulawa now qualifies for permanent resident status and can be a full citizen in as little as two years.

Congratulations to Mulawa and his new home!

Judge Calls Gay Refugee A Faker

August 1st, 2008

A refugee claimant in Winnipeg is set to be deported to his native Nigeria after failing to prove that he’s gay. The anonymous refugee said that, as a gay man, life for him was not safe in his home country. Indeed, homosexuality is illegal in Nigeria, and violators can face lengthy prison terms.

Judge Yves de Montigny, however, rejected the refugee’s claims, saying that since the man couldn’t describe the function of EGALE—Canada’s largest gay rights organisation—and confused the names of two Winnipeg gay bars, he mustn’t be gay at all. This new legal definition of “gay” now puts most of Canada’s gay men in danger of deportation.

The 38 year old man says he will apply to stay in the country on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, though if past cases are any indication, he won’t have much luck. Canada’s record on gay immigrants is atrocious, and doesn’t appear to be improving.

Canada To Deport Another Gay Refugee

July 9th, 2008

IRB Goggles

Canada is all set to deport Jane Okojie, a bisexual Nigerian woman, because the Immigration and Refugee Board did not believe that her sexuality would be an issue in her home country. Homosexuality is illegal in Nigeria, and those suspected of being gay can be jailed or worse.

Jane said that she is terrified, claiming that she was already detained in Nigeria after authorities discovered she was bisexual:

In Nigeria things are very bad for lesbians and gay people. If you are a bisexual or lesbian or gay you can be stoned to death and you can be sentenced to prison for many many years. The government doesn’t care.

Since arriving in Canada, Jane has given birth to a daughter who is now 18 months old. If deported, Jane will have to bring her daughter out of the country as well.

Canada has an atrocious record of deporting gay refugees to countries where homosexuality is illegal. While Jane has been granted a temporary stay due to the removal of her immigration lawyer, the Immigration and Refugee Board has already refused Jane’s refugee status and has rejected a stay based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

Canada Deporting Another Gay Refugee

April 16th, 2008

Incoming Deportee

Ah, another month, another deported gay refugee. This time it’s 39-year-old Joaquin Ramirez, who fled El Salvador in 2006 by coming to Canada as a delegate during the International AIDS conference. Once here, he was among the 160 conference attendees who applied for asylum, but one of an unspecified minority that was denied it.

Francisco Rico-Martinez, the director of Toronto’s FCJ Refugee Centre, was amazed:

What we found shocking in Joaquin’s case is that the risk of being a gay person in El Salvador was not properly assessed in these decisions [to deport him].

Joaquin, who is an HIV-positive outreach worker with the Young Men’s Christian Association, says that he was beaten and raped by police in El Salvador, and was issued death threats five months later when one of the officers who attacked him became infected. Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board rejected Joaquin’s story, asking why he didn’t apply for police protection back at home before coming here.

Recently Deported Gay Refugee Sought By Police

March 28th, 2008

Gay Catching

Troubling news from Malaysia, as Canada’s latest gay deportee is now being sought by police in his home country.

Amirthalingam Kulenthiran, who applied for Canadian refugee status in 2003, was deported three weeks ago because he failed to prove he was gay. His refugee claim was based on the fact that homosexuality is illegal in Malaysia, saying that police there had beaten him while in custody.

Now that Amirthalingam is back in Malaysia, police stations across the country have been ordered to stay on the lookout. Ismail Omar, the Deputy Inspector-General of Police, said that the search measures are merely to investigate his claims of police brutality:

What was his offense? That’s just it, if he did not commit any, how could the police arrest him? We are sad that he had accused us just like that.

Homosexuality in Malaysia carries a prison sentence of 20 years, or caning. Just before he was deported from Canada, Amirthalingam filed an emergency pre-removal risk assessment, but was rejected.

I wish Amirthalingam the very best of luck. While it’s sad that gay Malaysians must stay closeted, hopefully this situation will help draw attention to the problem there.

Canada Deports Another Gay Refugee

March 7th, 2008

More Deportations

Another gay refugee has exhausted all options of remaining in Canada, and has been ordered to be deported.

Kulenthiran Amirthalingam first applied for refugee status in 2003, saying that he had been physically and sexually abused by police in his home country of Malaysia after being accused of being gay. There, homosexuality carries a sentence of 20 years of prison or caning. Canada’s own travel guide advises gay citizens to avoid the country, since arrests of gay people are common.

Unsurprisingly, given Canada’s history on the matter, Kulenthiran was deported because his adjudicator didn’t believe he was gay. Gay refugees are often expected to provide proof that they are gay after years of hiding it in their home country. Despite this, Immigration Minister Diane Finley has refused to overturn the ruling.

I wish Kulenthiran the very best of luck, and hope that Canada wakes up and reforms its refugee system to deal with these cases more sensitively soon.

Another Gay Jamaican Seeks Asylum In Canada

February 27th, 2008

Another Gay Jamaican Refugee

Michael Hayden, a gay police officer, is the latest refugee from Jamaica to seek asylum in Canada.

Michael received multiple death threats after he spoke out about Jamaica’s deadly homophobia problem in a local newspaper this year. He now fears for his life and has gone into hiding, desperately seeking to escape to Canada:

I want to stay here [in Jamaica] and fight, but it’s not safe for me. My life is in great, great jeopardy.

Despite Jamaica’s image as an easygoing paradise for tourists, it is among the worlds most deadly places for gay people. Earlier this month, Gareth Henry, one of Jamaica’s few gay activists, escaped to Canada after 13 of his friends were killed by lynch mobs.

The good news, however, is that with every new refugee, more attention is drawn to Jamaica’s deadly secret. If Canada and other governments become aware enough of the issue to put out traveler warnings, Jamaica’s tourism industry can be leveraged to stop this horrific violence.

Prize-Winning Zombie Basketballs

February 25th, 2008

Pile o’ Slaps Volume II

In my web travels, I often collect stories that I intend to share, but then become distracted by newer, shinier stories—or feel too lazy to illustrate them. This is what becomes of those stories: a Pile o’ Slaps!

Dr. Brent Hawkes, a Toronto pastor and gay rights activist, has received the prestigious Order of Canada in recognition of his fight toward equal rights for gay people. I shall start the betting odds at 946341:¾ that an anti-gay lobbyist will burst a capillary over this within a week.

The rift between Canadian Anglicans is continuing to grow. A Vancouver congregation has voted to leave the country in favour of The Province of the Southern Cone in South America, which does not think of gay people as favourably. Authorities in The Province of the Southern Cone expressed overwhelming gratitude toward the Vancouver church for knowing that The Province of the Southern Cone exists.

The gay-targeting zombie lynch mobs in Jamaica are finally getting some media attention thanks in part to Gareth Henry’s fight to stay in Canada. A New York Times feature on Jamaica describes some of the horror. (Hat tip to Montreal Simon)

Speaking of Canadian Refugees, Capital Xtra has an excellent article outlining the frustrating process that refugee claimants must go through to prove they’re gay after years of effort to hide their sexuality in their home country. It’s a great lesson for future refugees: If you truly desire to protect yourself, put yourself in as much visible danger as possible.

A sports photographer has angered and confused Kentuckians after a newspaper published a photo of two male basketball players hugging in celebration of their victory. Columnist Pam Platt, in a display of common sense, offers no apology to the scores of offended readers, who will move on to picket the guy that accidentally brushed up against them on the public transit.

Gay Jamaican Seeks Refuge in Canada

February 15th, 2008

Jamaican Zombie Mobs

Jamaica is marketed as a vacation paradise, but for gay people, the danger can be shocking.

Gareth Henry, a Jamaican gay activist, has had 13 of his friends murdered by lynch mobs in the past four years, and has now fled to Canada to seek refugee status.

Sadly, Canada has an atrocious track record of protecting endangered gay refugees. Alvaro Orozco was ordered to be deported to Nicaragua in October because his adjudicator didn’t believe he was gay. Leonardo Zuniga, a Mexican claimant, also had his refugee plea rejected last summer despite the threat of anti-gay violence in his home country. With Jamaica’s popular image as an easy-going tourist spot, Gareth Henry might not have better luck.

Jamaica’s perception needs to be challenged; the country’s most popular musicians habitually call for the murder of gay people, and the public acts accordingly. Montreal Simon regularly reports on Jamaica’s horror stories (I’m borrowing his recurring zombie island motif), but very little attention is paid by the mainstream media—and Jamaican police are often mob members themselves.

I wish Gareth the best of luck with his claim and hope his stories will gain the attention they deserve. If governments become aware enough of the issue to put out traveler warnings, Jamaica may finally be forced to stop the madness.

Nicaraguan Law Spells Trouble For Canadian Refugee

November 26th, 2007

Deportation

Alvaro Orozco, a gay refugee facing deportation to Nicaragua, is struggling to remain in Canada after his home country has started the process to decriminalize gay sex. While the reversal of Nicaragua’s invasive and discriminatory law is ultimately good news for gays in the country, homophobia and violence remains a problem.

Alvaro seeked Canadian citizenship after escaping Nicaragua at the age of 12 because his father beat him for being gay. His Calgarian adjudicator, Deborah Lamont, ordered his deportation, insisting that Alvaro failed to prove he was gay.

El-Farouk Khaki, Alvaro’s lawyer, said that repealing a gay sex ban won’t ensure the safety of his client:

The reality is that many queer people around the world still get persecuted in countries where homosexuality is not necessarily illegal. You have to take a look at societal attitudes and the police.

For more information on Alvaro and what you can do to help stop his deportation, read Ed Lee’s two-part guest post on Slap, which includes a plea from Alvaro himself.

Updates From The (Pink) Road

September 19th, 2007

Road Slap

Hey, kids! Well, I’ve successfully defended my master’s thesis, and now it’s time to head even further west to see family. While on the road, here are some stories and updates that caught my eye:

The town of Truro, Nova Scotia, has adopted an official flag-flying policy to avoid any more situations like this summer’s Pride flag fiasco, in which the mayor compared gays to pedophiles. The new policy is straightforward, too: From now on, government flags only.

Statistics from the 2006 national census are in, and when it comes to the same-sex figures, things are clearly up for interpretation:

Speaking of census data, a Calgary SUN article has asserted: “Calgary is holding the fort in a country where the notion of the traditional family is increasingly under siege, states a federal census.” Really? The federal census states the traditional family is under siege? Or perhaps this is just a little bit of phrasing bias coming from Alberta’s gayest city.

With all the attention Alvaro Orozco has been getting, there’s a great article in NOW magazine reminding us that this is not an isolated case. Leonardo Zuniga, another gay refugee, is slated for deportation within the next few weeks. Why not take a couple minutes to help him out?

Until Friday, kids!

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

Gay Refugee Goes Into Hiding

August 29th, 2007

Hiding Gay Refugee

Alvaro Orozco, the Nicaraguan refugee ordered to be deported from Canada, has gone into hiding.

Homosexuality is illegal in Nicaragua and Alvaro had been threatened with violence if he returned, but his Calgarian adjudicator, Deborah Lamont, said he hadn’t sufficiently proved he was gay and ordered him to be deported. Since then, all opportunities for appeal have been exhausted.

I’m not sure what the Immigration Refugee Board is thinking, considering that Alvaro’s story has been published in the Nicaraguan media. Frankly, it doesn’t matter whether or not he can prove he’s gay at this point; his safety is threatened.

Another Gay Refugee May Be Deported

August 24th, 2007

Gay Deportation Policy

Looks like Alvaro isn’t the only gay refugee desperately trying to stay in Canada to avoid homophobia and violence. Leonardo Zuniga, a gay Mexican, is slated for deportation from Canada after exhausting all avenues for appeal.

Unlike Alvaro’s case, immigration officials don’t seem to doubt Leonardo’s gayness, but homosexuality isn’t illegal in Mexico making proof of immediate threat difficult. Nonetheless, it would be a shame if Leonardo is deported; Mexico has the second-highest anti-gay crime rate in the world, and we’d be losing an upstanding community member. While in Canada, Leonardo has won both the David Barker Maltby Award for photography and the Youth Line Award for Queer Youth Activism.

Leonardo’s last hope for citizenship relies on Immigration Minister Diane Finley officially blocking the deportation order. Considering her enthusiasm level for Alvaro’s case, I wouldn’t count on it.

If you’d like to get involved in the case, check out Leonardo’s website.

Alvaro’s too, while you’re at it.

Gay Refugee To Be Deported

August 10th, 2007

Refugee Test

Alvaro Orozco, the 21-year-old refugee who was denied Canadian citizenship because he didn’t look “gay enough” now faces immediate deportation. Alvaro originally fled Nicaragua, where homosexuality is illegal, and made his way up to Toronto, where he has been living for the past two-and-a-half years.

Calgarian adjudicator, Deborah Lamont, originally denied the refugee claim in February, saying that if Alvaro were really gay, he would have been sexually active. Though Alvaro was only a teenager when he made his refugee claim, all avenues for reversing Deborah’s sex-based decision have been denied.

So let that be a lesson to all you future refugees: If you want to base your claim on being gay, the refugee board demands that you be as flaming and promiscuous as possible. Otherwise you’re just one of those fakers.

Update: Slap reader Sheena writes in with some last-minute info: “If people are still interested in advocating for Alvaro, his website still says his supporters can write to Minister of Immigration Diane Finley and ask her to intervene in his deportation – it’s his only hope. It’s worth a shot!”

Definitely worth a shot. Head over there if you’d like to help out, kids!