For a gay Syrian refugee living in Hamilton, Ont., disconnect and loneliness bring new challenges

On Aug 26, 2016 The Globe and Mail reported: As he sits cross-legged on his apartme

“You can see how it’s a very big [LGBTQ] community. Many, many people,” he says, smiling. “It’s beautiful. Here, we don’t have [that].”

Canada offers Julian a reprieve from a life of beatings, taunts and arrests. But as a gay Syrian in Hamilton, he faces a new host of problems, namely cultural disconnect and loneliness. Canada’s refugee efforts have largely focused on families with children; single people and, in Julian’s case, families of two, make up less than 15 per cent of the 1,000 Syrian refugees resettled to Hamilton this year. Single LGBTQ refugees such as Julian are an anomaly, and smaller cities in Canada lack the resources to support them.
“Hamilton is not Toronto,” admits Justin Taylor, the executive director of Rainbow Railroad, a Toronto-based organization that works with four settlement teams who privately sponsor LGBTQ refugees. The needs of LGBTQ refugees differ, particularly with housing and health care, he says. Socializing is equally important. Taylor’s initiatives include regular potlucks with refugees and hosting LGBTQ sports teams.

Julian attends the Toronto Pride parade on July 3, 2016. He tries to visit Toronto every month and wants to move there.
Julian (which isn’t his real name, but the one he plans to legally assume in Canada for his safety) has visited the two gay bars in Hamilton, his home for the past eight months. On those visits, he met only a handful of LGBTQ people and was disheartened by the cultural change.

Julian was equally dismayed when his settlement worker admitted to knowing little about local LGTBQ resources. Wesley Urban Ministries, the lead agency supporting Julian and other government-assisted refugees in Hamilton, says on its website that it works with each client to understand “the specific challenges they face.”

But Julian says the agency is ill equipped to help LGBTQ refugees. It took more than six months to connect him with an LGBTQ couple in the city, he says.

When he asked for another settlement worker, Julian was turned down given the influx of refugees.

Wesley declined to comment on Julian’s case, citing privacy reasons, but said it takes inclusiveness “very seriously” and plans to “improve our processes in the future.”

“That being said, we have been extremely busy dealing with our Syrian refugees and are disappointed that in this case we did not meet the individual’s needs,” spokeswoman Andrea Buttars wrote in an e-mail. Shortly afterwards, Wesley reached out to Julian with a program that offers friends for newcomers.

nt floor, Julian plays a video on his phone of a group of gay men at an underground party in Damascus. The men are clad in colourful outfits and dance to blaring Arabic music. Julian lost most of his belongings in the Syrian civil war and uses this old clip from a friend as a memory of home.

Read more at: For a gay Syrian refugee living in Hamilton, Ont., disconnect and loneliness bring new challenges – The Globe and Mail

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