October 29, 2014 – Reported by The Chronicle Herald – HALIFAX – The Rainbow Refugee Association of Nova Scotia is a volunteer non-profit organization that privately sponsors and helps lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, queer/questioning and intersex (LGBTQI) refugees resettle in Nova Scotia. Corrie Melanson is a founder and co-chairwoman of the organization, which is raising funds to bring two refugees from Iran to Nova Scotia.
Q: What does your organization do?
A: To privately sponsor means they are not coming through the government. As a group, we raise money and we support the refugees financially and socially for a full year. We started about two years ago and we have already sponsored a few refugees. They are gay men from Iran. One of the reasons is that in Iran, gay men (and lesbian women) are routinely jailed, tortured and killed for being gay. There are seven countries in the world where there is the possibility of the death penalty for being gay, but … it is still illegal in many other countries. … We have a level of privilege and a level of human rights in our own country that many people do not have around the world.
Q: What are some of the challenges faced by refugees from the LGBTQI community?
A: We are sponsoring people who are refugees because of their sexual orientation. That is possible under the UNHCR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) so it is possible under the UN to be a refugee based on your sexual orientation. I guess the interesting thing is that when you are doing an interview and that sort of stuff, they don’t actually ask about that. You have to openly declare that that is the reason, so certainly there have been lots of refugees who have come to Canada, maybe as political refugees, for example, and it hasn’t been known that they are gay or lesbian … Imagine if you are a refugee and it isn’t known that you are gay or lesbian and you are part of a community that might be more religious, and because of that you don’t feel safe in the community even here in Canada.
Q: What can you tell us about the refugees that the association has helped resettle in Nova Scotia and others that will arrive?
A: The two people (a gay couple from Iran) that we have brought so far have been here for almost a year. At this point, they don’t really want their names shared because of continuing safety reasons. … They are continually aware that if their family back in Iran finds out about them, there could be real consequences to that, if family ever came to Canada, for example, and tracked them down. They are both doing very well. One of them has a full-time job, has been promoted and got employee of the month at a leading hotel chain. The other one is at the community college doing a program … and he hopes to study IT. They continue to want to stay in Halifax, even though there are larger Iranian LGBTQ communities in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. … (Since then) two more Iranian men have arrived that basically have arrived because we exist here, but we are not supporting them financially. We are doing a lot more of the social support for them. Another two men from Iran are coming. All of them were in Turkey. They fled from Iran to Turkey. We would like to sponsor as many people as possible in the sense that there is a large, large need and demand.
Q: Why is sponsorship needed?
A: In general, language is a huge thing that most refugees, unless they speak English, need to focus on. So having a year where they don’t have to worry about getting a job, they focus on their English. … Any refugee who is sponsored by the government also gets a year of settlement costs covered. We’re essentially doing what the government would do in terms of helping them financially, helping them socially and emotionally to settle and integrate into Canadian and Nova Scotian life. … Immigration is a very complex topic. We do work with the Immigrant Settlement & Integration Services. We partner with them. They have charitable status so we are able to work with them. For example, if anyone donates a certain amount of money, they get a charitable tax receipt. We make sure that we have at least a good chunk of the money raised ahead of time. It costs $11,000 (to support one refugee) and we are bringing two. We get some of that covered by the federal government so we are trying to raise the rest of the money that we need for the two that are coming.