Settling refugees has given me some of the very best experiences of my life. My partner and I appreciate the rights we are finally and unexpectedly allowed to enjoy in Canada. We compared this to the extreme human rights violations that LGBT people experience in other countries, such as; capital punishment, public torture, imprisonment, rape, and denial of basic services. When we first started this, we decided to look for three other people who would agree to participate in a Group of Five to sponsor a persecuted LGBT person to settle in Winnipeg.
All the members of our group did not know each other very well. But when we met, we all expressed the same interests and worries about LGBT sponsorship. Our group connected with Malek, a young gay man, in Turkey who had fled Iran. The group had its first Internet video call with Malek, and a translator. We submitted our formal application to become a Group of Five shortly thereafter.
My partner and I had weekly video calls and used instant messaging with Malek in the months we all waited for the refugee resettlement process to unfold. We developed a relationship with Malek, submitted an application for permanent residency in Canada, followed his refugee application at the UNHCR, his interview at the Canadian Embassy in Ankara and related medical exam, and waited with him for the outcome of his criminal and security checks. In the meantime we got to know each other personally. During the waiting period it became apparent that Malek was running out of money for basic needs. Our group provided a small amount of monthly financial support to ensure he survived.
Finally, we heard his file had been transferred to IOM, the agency that arranges flights to Canada. Our group was formally given three day’s notice of Malek’s arrival, but because we were in regular contact with Malek we had a few weeks advance notice of his arrival. An exit visa from the Turkish government was the last thing we all waited for. It was given within four days of his flight.
After 17 months, we were able to meet Malek at the airport. Meeting in person was surreal. And being able to talk and experience the same things in the same place makes everything so much easier and has allowed most of the Group of Five to develop a deeper relationship with Malek. I feel very privileged to have a wonderful person as a close friend.
Malek found full time work while taking full time English courses. Learning English together was fun. It was a privilege to walk beside Malek as he became more comfortable in his new home country. He is now fully integrated into Canadian life.
As I said before, this experience has been one of the very best of my life. My partner and I are now involved in supporting resettlement of a gay man originally from Pakistan. This is also a wonderful experience for all of us.