- The Russian anti-gay law caused an international outcry; Canada said it would grant asylum to Russian homosexuals
- Foreigners suspected in 'pro-gay propaganda' could be fined up to $3,000 and spend 15 days in a Russian jail.
- A Russian gay teenager becomes a social media superstar hoping to raise money and relocate to Canada
- Being granted asylum is not easy. You need to prove that your life and safety are threatened in your home country; prove that you are indeed homosexual
The story of Russian gays being discriminated against, verbally and physically abused, and even persecuted, didn't begin last June. Then president Vladimir Putin only made the life of Russian gay people more miserable by introducing an anti-gay law.
It banned gay “propaganda”, which could include a wide range of activities - from organizing gay pride events to talking to minors about “non-traditional” relationships. Kissing and holding hands in public also violates the law. Mind you, foreigners are not spared by the law either because, if suspected of pro-gay notions or activities, they could be fined up to $3,000 and spend 15 days in a Russian jail.
In other words, the law openly encourages prosecution and “special treatment” of Russian homosexuals.
Naturally, all liberal democratic leaders in the world voiced their support for the Russian LGBT community. President Barack Obama canceled a planned summit meeting with Putin as a protest against the law.
Calls for boycotting the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, scheduled for Feb. 7-23, began to swirl immediately, though the general opinion was that the boycott would only hurt the athletes and devalue their hard work and preparation. Some have even suggested moving the Games back to Vancouver where they were held in 2010.
On the other hand, Canadian reaction was clear and firm. The country's Minister for Citizenship and Immigration, Christopher Alexander, said then that Russian gays claiming persecution are encouraged to seek asylum. Alexander pointed out how
Canada has traditionally been welcoming to asylum seekers and has a “very generous system”.
Christopher Alexander, Canadian Citizenship and Immigration Minister------ Wikimedia
Gay asylum seekers fall into the same category as members of any other group persecuted on religious or ethnic grounds. They can file a claim after they get to Canada, stating the threat they are facing in their native country, most likely from that country's government. Or because they have been harassed by others and the government does nothing to ensure their safety.
The Russian Affair
Recent data provided by the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) reveals that there have been 48 asylum claims from Russia since. Some of the people who submitted them feared prosecution because of their sexual orientation. Out of those claims, 35% were accepted. As far as Russians as a whole go, each year between 140 and 225 people arrive in Canada and apply for refugee status. Half of them are usually accepted. In 2012, 166 Russian sought such status and 60 claims were considered.
IRB says that there are no exact statistics on how many of those people claim asylum fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation.
Recent reports told the story of one 17-year-old Russian, Kirill Maryin, living in Novosibirsk, the third most populous city in the country. He tweeted: “Vladimir Putin makes it clear that rights of gay people will not be (sic) in Russia. It's time to prepare bags.” Kirill has said that he dreams of moving to Canada. And by taking to Twitter and voicing his feelings, he has amassed a large number of followers. Being only 17, lonely and scared, Kirill hopes to find somebody who would be willing to fund his trip and cover his re-settlement expenses.
The teenager is the child of a single mother and has claimed that, since turning 11, he has been a target of insults and bullying because of his gender identity and sexuality. Kirill says he has no friends except his virtual supporters. Right now, however, he is looking at Canada only on his computer screen.
Now, why aren't Russian gays arriving in Canada by the thousands?
Lawyer Rob Hughes, who represents two gay Russian men, has an idea why. He was quoted by Canadian media as saying that even though many Russian homosexuals have expressed the desire to relocate to Canada, the total cost along with visa requirements are stumbling blocks. He told CTV British Columbia that for the first time gay Russians had contacted him while still in Russia because they are afraid and want to speed up the process. One of his clients, Maxim Zhuralev, had spoken openly about how, after he told a friend that he was gay, a group of homophobes brutally beat him up. Zhuralev wanted to leave Russia as soon as possible. Last March, he arrived in Canada from Kurgan, finding his new home in the “gay Mecca” of Vancouver.
It's not as ridiculous as it sounds, however. To have your asylum claim accepted, you'd have to provide evidence that your life or safety are threatened because of your sexual orientation. Considering that most gay people are afraid to come “out” in their native countries, that may be hard to prove. The best thing to do is find a reliable lawyer specializing in human rights abuses or similar.
Even if you come from Russia where an anti-gay law is in effect now, you have to give a detailed account of the homophobic persecution you suffered. In support of your claim, you can also tell the stories of friends, or other LGBT community members, who had been harassed or beaten.
You may be required to present written statements from family and friends, a current or past partner, providing their full name, date of birth, address and the exact nature of their relationship to you. Each statement has to be signed and dated in front of witnesses who also must state their name, DOB and so on.
A testimony from an expert witness may be especially helpful. That person can give a trustworthy account of the homophobic discrimination and violence that go on in your country. He or she can even testify in court or present a written submission. If you've been in the news in your native country, you can include news reports. General reports about your country from human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are also helpful, as well as news releases from local LGBT organizations.
If it all sounds complicated, that's because it is. You may want to seek an immigration consultation.
Traditionally, Canada is relatively open to people who have well-founded fears of being persecuted for different reasons in their native country, or have had their human rights violated. However, laws are laws and certain restrictions apply. No immigration service will let you in out of the goodness of their heart. Do your homework and don't despair.