Providing a Haven to LGBTI Refugees
Posted by HIAS – NY on Wed, Aug 28, 2013 at 16:28 pm
Eight months after his arrival in the US, M., a 28-year-old gay Iraqi, shudders to think what would have happened to him if he hadn’t fled his country. “In Iraq people don’t like gay people. They are not accepted, they are oppressed. It is very difficult to come out to your family so most gay men live a double-life. If I hadn’t left, my life would have been miserable,” he explains.
M. participates in HIAS’ Preferred Communities Special Populations project, which provides intensive case management and specialized services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) refugees, asylees, and special immigrant visa holders in order to help them acclimatize and integrate into U.S. society.
Through the program, M. was resettled in the East Bay in a home with two volunteers, an Arabic-speaking Israeli man and his American partner. “I was lucky to live with someone who speaks Arabic, but now he insists that I speak English to practice,” he laughs. “I feel very comfortable at home. They are very nice to me.”
In the East Bay, HIAS’ partner Jewish Family and Child Services of the East Bay (JFCS/East Bay) provides immediate services to refugees or immigrants upon arrival, as well as ongoing guidance as they learn to live in the United States. Unlike other refugees, LGBTI individuals who have fled their home countries due to persecution based on their sexual orientation or gender identity often arrive in the US alone; many have been victims of violence, torture, and rape. JFCS’ therapists, case managers, and volunteers provide an invaluable support system, helping refugees like M. navigate social services, the health care system, educational and vocational resources, and much more.
Because M. has no family in the US, and survives on just over $500 a month, he relies on a support group of volunteers for everything from rides to the doctor to practicing his English. He is working hard to learn the language quickly because he knows it is imperative to finding a job and being able to move out of the volunteers’ home. He worries about the high cost of housing in the area and is eager to become self-sufficient, enroll in school, and find a stable partnership.
He is adapting quickly to the new culture—a haven after living in fear for his life for years in Baghdad. “Here there is freedom for gay people, for all people. Gay people have rights, not like where I came from.”
M. longer thinks of himself as a refugee, however. “Now I am a resident!” he says proudly, and with gratitude to everyone who helped him find safety. “I am so happy I came to the U.S. It is a dream!”
HIAS’ Preferred Communities Special Populations project, which is funded by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, is also active in New York. For information on volunteering with an arriving LGBTI refugee in New York, check out: http://www.fegs.org/content/volunteer-fegs.