Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender refugees from Iran have found themselves caught between a rock and a hard place after Donald Trumpâs executive order banning entry for people from seven Muslim-majority countries.
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The order also suspended the US refugee admissions system for 120 days, and promised to prioritise members of religious minorities.
But it made no mention of people facing persecution for their sexual orientation, and several gay Iranians who have fled a country where homosexuality is punishable by death are now left stuck in Turkey, where they say they are experiencing worse homophobic abuses than in their homeland.
Some of the refugees have already had their asylum applications approved by the UN refugee agency and were due to be resettled in the US after months or even years of interviews and security checks.
Mitra, a 27-year-old lesbian living in Denizli, a conservative city in south-west Turkey, left Iran in 2014 after receiving death threats because of her activities as the editor of Aghaliat, an online magazine focusing on LGBT issues.
She was granted refugee status by the UN nearly two years ago, and was due to attend her final interview this month before being resettled in the US. âThey have just called me and said itâs all cancelled,â she said.
Until Trumpâs ban came into force, the US was the only viable path to safety for gay Iranians who end up in Turkey. Canada no longer accepts them because it is focusing on Syrian refugees. European countries do not normally accept LGBT Iranians who have applied from Turkey.
Like many of her fellow minorities, Mitra was initially approved to go to Canada. âI waited for 14 months, [and] even went through the medical checks but one day they called and said Canada doesnât accept Iranians anymore and I should go to the US. Now thatâs up in the air too.â
Mitra added: âOne by one all my dreams and hopes are being destroyed before my eyes. It doesnât matter to me whether to go to Canada or the US, I just want to go somewhere â anywhere â safe.â
Mitra currently lives with her partner in a tiny room with one sofa that is also their bed. âIran doesnât want us, Canada doesnât want us and now the US doesnât want us either. I have seen the suicide of three friends since 2015. A gay Iranian [threw] himself off a balcony and an Iranian lesbian hanged herself just eight months ago.â
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She argued that the US should also make exemptions for sexual minorities as well. âAt least with religious refugees, they have the support of their families, we donât even have that. Our families are [ashamed] of us.â
Javad, 50, is a disabled Iranian gay man also living in Turkey. âI was abandoned by my family, I was abandoned by my country and now I [do not] have anywhere to go,â he said.
He said two of his friends were beaten up in the street. âOne day a friend of mine, an Iranian gay name Pouya, called and said, âforgive meâ,â he said. âI realised he was about to take his life.
âI am disabled, I struggled to get to his house, by the time I got there he had died. He had just had enough.â
Saghi Ghahraman, the head of the Canada-based Iranian Queer Organisation, said LGBT Iranians face horrific punishment and bullying. A fatwa issued in 1987 by the late Ayatollah Khomeini legalised transexuality, but social stigma remains still rampant, and homosexuality is still punishable by death.
âUp until 2013, the wait-time for the LGBT to be determined and resettled by the [UN high commissioner for refugees] in Turkey was about a year and a half, which was barely manageable,â she said. âBut it changed with the war in Syria, and when the USA and Canada undertook resettlement of large number of displaced Syrians, the LGBT wait-time before resettlement went up to three years,â she said.
Meanwhile, gay Iranian exiles have been subjected to a string of violent hate attacks and murders in Turkey, said Ghahraman.
The 26-year-old Azad, a gay Iranian who was approved for relocation by the UN 23 months ago, said his friend fainted in the bus when he heard about Trumpâs decision. âWeâre stuck, we canât go forward, we canât go backward,â he said. âTurkey is so unstable too these days and anything can happen, what if they deport us back to Iran?âhttps://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/01/us-travel-ban-leaves-iranian-lgbt-refugees-in-limbo