Gay Refugee Claimants Seeking Haven in Canada
Globe & Mail, April 24, 2004
444 Front St. W., Toronto, Ontario, M5V 2S9 Canada
By Marina Jimenez, From Saturday’s Globe and Mail
Canada is seeing a surge in the number of refugee
claimants who say they are homosexuals and will be persecuted if they are
returned to their homelands.
In the past three years, nearly 2,500 people from 75
different countries have sought asylum on the basis of sexual orientation,
according to information released under the Access to Information Act.
It is not known how many have been allowed to stay in
Canada; the Immigration and Refugee Board does not track acceptance rates by
The surge in applications is being driven both by bogus
claims and a growing view of Canada as a haven for persecuted homosexuals,
refugee experts say.
The largest number came from Mexico, with 602, and Costa
Rica, with 276—both democracies with thriving
homosexual communities, annual Gay Pride Day parades and websites offering
everything from gay weddings to gay tour operators.
Many claimants also come from Muslim countries, where
homosexuality is outlawed, while a small number hail from Ireland, Britain,
the United States and even the Netherlands, one of the few countries to
legalize gay marriage.
Although claims on the basis of sexual orientation have
been permitted since 1994 when the Supreme Court of Canada broadened the
definition of social group to include homosexuals, immigration lawyers say
they have seen a surge of cases of this nature in the past three years.
“People who come from relatively peaceful countries
tend to grasp at straws in terms of advancing refugee claims,” said Max
Berger, a Toronto immigration lawyer who has represented dozens of Pakistani
gay claims in the past year.
“With gay cases, it is harder to disprove. If you are
making political or religious claims, you need corroborating documents from a
mosque or political party. But with gay cases, they rely more on oral
testimony. It is easier to advance a bogus case.”
For a case to succeed, the person must first convince an
IRB panel they are homosexual, and then prove they will face persecution in
their homeland as a result.
Armando Ramos, spokesman for the Mexican consul in
Toronto, says he has met many Mexican men who told him they lied about their
sexual orientation to make refugee claims in Canada. “They are clearly
taking advantage of the system, and giving Mexico a bad name,” he said.
“I met with the Homosexual Latin American Association
of Toronto and they are very upset about the poseurs and say immigration
officials won’t believe the real gays who need protection.”
The IRB received so many cases from self-professed Costa
Rican homosexuals, it issued jurisprudential guidelines last year, concluding
that homosexuals do not face persecution in Costa Rica. The overall acceptance
rate for Costa Rica’s 1,833 claimants last year was just 2 per cent.
The country is now the fifth-largest refugee source
country, behind Pakistan, with 4,257 claims in 2003; Mexico, with 2,560;
Colombia with 2,131; and China with 1,840. The overall acceptance rate for
Mexicans was 27 per cent.
Of the 602 Mexican claims made between January, 2000, and
December, 2003, on the basis of sexual orientation, 71 were accepted, 67 were
rejected, 415 await hearings and 50 were abandoned or withdrawn.
Michael Battista, a gay immigration lawyer, says many of
the gay Mexicans he has represented are HIV-positive and have trouble getting
jobs and medical care back home. “These cases tend to have a higher
acceptance rate,” he said.
El-Farouk Khaki, a Toronto immigration lawyer who also
has a large gay Mexican clientele, says many have been granted asylum. A 2003
report by the Washington-based World Policy Institute notes that despite
human-rights codes outlawing discrimination on the basis of sexual
orientation, abuse of gays by local officials does exist in some parts of
Other countries with a high number of claims on the basis
of sexual orientation include Pakistan, with 126 claims in the past three
years, Nigeria with 152 and Hungary with 94. In Nigeria, homosexual acts are
illegal and in Pakistan, those caught engaging in “carnal intercourse
against the order of nature” may be stoned to death.
Mr. Berger says about half the gay Pakistani claimants he
has represented in the past year have been successful. One recent client,
Iftikhar Ahmad Shahbaz, fled Pakistan after a fundamental religious group
called the Sipah-e-Sahaba beat him several times, destroyed his business and
looted his cash box.
“I fear for my life in Pakistan where I cannot safely
live as a homosexual male,” said Mr. Shahbaz, 26, a shop owner who awaits a
Robert Moorhouse, who has represented more than 60 gay
refugee claimants over the years, says the area is a very complex one. “I
used to call it Gay 101. Immigration and Refugee Board members ask claimants
what day the Gay Pride parade was on, where the gay bars in Toronto are
located and whether they were in a relationship,” Mr. Moorhouse said. “But
what does that prove? Members have to have gaydar [gay radar], and rely on
their gut instinct. But it is also a subjective area.”
Mr. Ramos acknowledged that Latin machismo as well as the
conservative influence of the Roman Catholic Church are still pervasive in
Mexico, but said homosexuals are not systematically persecuted. The beach
resort of Cancun offers an annual gay festival, while a host of guidebooks
offer detailed listings of gay-friendly bars and baths.
Charles Hawkins, the IRB spokesman, notes that
credibility is a key issue in refugee cases, and that IRB members do not
prejudge claims based on country of origin or case type.
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