Queer Syrian refugees lost in system once in Canada

On Feb 4, 2016 Daily Xtra reported: There are myriad groups that want to help LGBT Syrians, but the systems in place aren’t helping

The Canadian government is pledging to place Syrian refugees who identify as sexual or gender minorities in cities where they can access support. But immigration officials say they have no idea how many LGBT Syrians have arrived, and groups wanting to sponsor them are having trouble helping out.

“We are in a daily process to match all refugees to the most appropriate location,” Immigration Minister John McCallum said on Wednesday, Feb 3, 2016. “It’s somewhat tailor-made to suit the particularities of refugee households.”

When the federal government unveiled its plan in November 2015 to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by Feb 29, it listed “members of the LGBTI community” among four priority groups, in keeping with the United Nations’ refugee guidelines.

“We treat LGBT people among the vulnerable, because they are often subject to very substantial persecution in that part of the world,” McCallum said Wednesday.

But the immigration minister wasn’t able to specify how LGBT Syrians will be accommodated, other than placing them in cities where they can find support.

Violence against LGBT refugees has been reported in crowded camps across Europe, while the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany has identified several assaults on gay refugees in 2015, often by fellow asylum seekers.

Immigration officials couldn’t say if they’re taking measures to avoid similar situations, but they noted that all government-assisted refugees — who arrive without a group to welcome them — are taken to specialized receiving centres for help like psychological counselling before they are placed in designated housing.

Karlene Williams-Clarke, who heads newcomer services at The 519, Toronto’s LGBT community centre, says LGBT refugees arriving alongside people from their home countries shouldn’t be housed in places “where they feel that they’re going to be ostracized again, or that they’re going to feel uncomfortable being gay.”

But she adds that refugees shouldn’t be isolated from other people, and sometimes need counselling.

“Some people it may be difficult because all your life you live in the closet, and then you come here and you’re free to be you; it takes a little while to adjust.”

Meanwhile, LGBT groups have had difficulty in trying to sponsor Syrians.

“Right now, there is no way effectively for LGBTI refugees to be identified for sponsor groups that are wanting to sponsor them,” says Victoria-area MP Randall Garrison, who’s heard from three frustrated groups in his riding that are trying to help out.

The immigration department says groups can help LGBT Syrians, but through a separate program.

“Due to privacy concerns, we cannot share personal information regarding refugees with potential sponsors such as those who are part of the LGBTI community,” spokeswoman Jessica Séguin said in an email to Daily Xtra.

“Although persecution due to sexual orientation may be the reason an individual needs protection and would be included in case notes, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) does not track this information in its data fields.”

Read more of this article at Queer Syrian refugees lost in system once in Canada | Daily Xtra.

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