For Gay Iranian Refugees, a Matter of Life or Death

(Continued from Page 1)
by Joseph Erbentraut
EDGE Media Network Contributor

A bittersweet choice
Arsham Parsi left his home of Iran to live in Turkey in 2005, when he discovered the police were seeking him out for his early efforts to organize and network with fellow Iranian gay activists. He stayed there for just over a year before seeking asylum in Toronto, Canada.

"The Iranian queer community who escapes to other countries have no other choice but to go through this process," explained Parsi, who is now executive director of the IRanian Queer Railroad (IRQR), an organization which provides support to gay Iranian refugees. "I had lots of problems [in Turkey], but I had no choice. It's about death or life, choosing between bad and worse."

Parsi echoed the sentiments of the report released by the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly and ORAM that major changes needed to be made to the UNHCR's method of processing and abjudicating refugee status for gay Iranian applicants. He is currently writing an open letter urging the organization to speed up their process. He hopes that other Western groups will sign on with their cause. A similar campaign launched by IRQR earlier this year successfully expediated country assignment for a number of gay refugees.

"We need international lobbying with UNHCR," Parsi said, noting that he is contact with Iranian refugees in a number of other nations also having difficulty. "Everyone knows they are dealing with lots of refugees and they have limited resources and staff, but the important issue is that Iranian queers are particularly vulnerable. They have to process their cases urgently because they are still facing discrimination."

The challenge to the international community
Fearing danger both in their abandoned homeland and in their temporary locations, queer Iranian refugees are indeed left in a quandary. They cannot return home, where it is estimated that thousands of gays and lesbians have been killed since 1979 and daily violence and intimidation continue, but their future remains shrouded in uncertainty.

Activists on the issue hope that LGBT and human rights organizations worldwide come to the aid of queer Iranian refugees, creating an international effort to prevent continued threats on personal safety.

"Significant steps must be taken to make LGBT refugees and asylum seekers safer in Turkey and in many other places throughout the world," said Neil Grungras, ORAM executive director. "The violence and abuses will diminish only when all responsible parties begin giving the problem the intensive and serious attention it deserves."

"It's an international challenge for the Iranian queer community," Parsi said "Where can we live freely and have our rights respected? Most [Western nations] will say that Iran is violating rights, but they should also respect those who escape from Iranian torture."

Joseph covers news, arts and entertainment and lives in Chicago. He is the assistant Chicago editor for The Huffington Post. Log on to to read more of his work.


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