09 Feb LGBTQ fleeing persecution: the journey of two Iraqi partners

In a recent COA session held in Istanbul (Turkey), I met a gay Iraqi refugee with a heart-breaking story; one that he was willing to share. In early December 2014, right after the completion of a three-day orientation session, Bashar departed for Canada leaving his partner Fahim behind. “People in the training room are excited and happy about their upcoming move to Canada, but I can’t say the same thing for myself. Contemplating my future in Canada without my partner makes me anxious”, he admitted.

Yusuf Koruglu

COA Facilitator

This is the story of Bashar, a COA refugee participant in Istanbul, Turkey. His story has been translated from Arabic and the names have been changed.

My name is Bashar. I left Iraq in 2013, because of my sexual orientation and fear of reprisal from my immediate family relatives.

My love story begins in Baghdad where I met Fahim. As our relation grew from friendship to love, Fahim and I had to hide our relationship and feelings towards each other. We were lucky to have a mutual friend who would help us arrange secret meetings. As you might know, same-sex relationships are taboo and subject to a number of punishments in Iraq. As time passed, the risks of being caught increased. 

One day, the friend who had been facilitating our relation started extorting money from Fahim and I, threatening to reveal our secret to our families and friends. When we refused to pay, he went ahead and informed our uncles. The punishment was harsh. My uncles bonded my legs and wrists, shaved my hair and eyelashes and imprisoned me in my bedroom for a period of 4 months. On November 18th 2013, I managed to escape Baghdad and fled  to Turkey. At that point, I had lost contact with Fahim. I completed my interviews with the UNHCR and with the Canadian Embassy, explaining in detail why I had left Iraq. I was sent to live in Yalova, a  satellite city located in the north-western part of Turkey when a miracle happened.

One day, while visiting Istanbul, I crossed the path of Fahim. It was a shock and I could barely believe he was really standing there, before my eyes, in a busy Istanbul commercial avenue. I didn’t know Fahim had also escaped Iraq a few months before me and was living in Nigde, some 700 km south-east of Yalova. Fahim and I immediately requested the UNHCR to reunite us, and soon he was able to move to Yalova.

In order to process our applications together, the Canadian Embassy requested a marriage certificate. Fahim and I were not officially married and such document was just impossible to provide. Even the Iraqi refugees we were living with did not know about our relationship. In the end, I was informed that my case was approved for resettlement to Canada, but that my partner would need to remain in Turkey a while longer. This news came as a staggering blow. Thinking I would have to leave Fahim behind again was unbearable and it drove me into a deep depression. I attempted suicide and was taken to a hospital.

(From Left to Right) Yusuf Koroglu, COA Facilitator, Bashar and Fahim in Istanbul, Turkey on December 9, 2014.

What was most distressing to me was the thought that Fahim would be left alone. While in Istanbul, we had received threats from suspicious Iraqis and had been informed that our uncles were looking for us. At some point, Fahim’s uncle flew to Istanbul to look for him. We were always scared and did not know how this would end.

On December 9th, I left Turkey – and my partner Fahim – with mixed feelings. Fahim completed his UNHCR interview in July 2014 and I hope to be reunited with him soon.

The situation of refugees in Turkey remains very difficult, let alone for LGBTQ refugees. I am grateful for the support I received from the Canadian government and from the Canadian Orientation Abroad facilitators. I hope that my story will help readers to understand the challenges faced by LGBTQ refugees before and upon their resettlement to Canada.   

Yours sincerely,