Thank you so much.
I wanted to be there in person, but, unfortunately, due to an Air Canada flight cancellation, I wasn't able to participate. Thank you so much for facilitating a way for me to join you over the telephone.
My name is Arsham Parsi and I'm the executive director of the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees, a registered charity that is helping LGBT refugees from Iran, Syria, Iraq, and most Middle Eastern countries through the UNHCR process in order to be granted asylum and then resettle in a safe country such as Canada, the United States, Australia, or several European countries.
There is no doubt that Iran persecutes LGBTs on the basis of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. That is well documented. In other Middle Eastern countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, there is very serious punishment for being homosexual. For many years the Canadian government supported those refugees and helped them to come to safe countries. The majority of those refugees cannot be granted a visa or a student visa or some other method of immigration in order to apply and come to Canada or other free countries to live free from fear.
When something happens and it's a matter of life and death, they decide to leave and apply for asylum. Turkey is a transit country and a hard country for them, because most of them do not require a visa or even if they don't have legal documents, they can escape through mountains or enter Turkey illegally and apply at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' offices.
In 2001 Canada was very helpful and most LGBT refugees in Turkey wanted to come to Canada because they would have more rights here and they could enjoy more rights like gay marriage, health care, tolerance, culture, and the pride that is happening here; they were more comfortable than in the United States. Unfortunately, it's changed. For a couple of years, two years maximum, Canada has refused a lot of non-Syrian LGBT refugees. We as Canadians are proud that Canada opened its arms to Syrians and those families who have been affected by the horrible war in Syria, but saving someone's life doesn't mean holding up another's life. As a result, a lot of LGBT refugees in Turkey were put on hold. Their applications were not processed because the priority was Syria, and there were a lot of logistics and capacity issues with Turkey, such as the number of available interview rooms at the Canadian embassy in Ankara, staffing, and all of the people who can handle and process the refugee applications.
It used to be that Canada's quota was 1,100 cases a year, and sometimes it took up to 12 months to process those. When the cases of the Syrian refugees were put on top of those, they were delayed more and more. We have some cases of people who were interviewed in 2014 and they are still waiting.
In Turkey, the refugees are not safe. Turkey is not a safe country, and due to the political changes in Turkey that we are all aware of, they're not even as safe as before.
One piece of evidence that this situation is very dire, and that we as Canadians and protectors of human rights have the responsibility to support them because they are the most vulnerable cases, is that in the last two years 21 LGBT refugees have attempted suicide in Turkey and five of them have been successful. So we have lost at least five of them in the last two years. The main reason was that they could not wait there any longer. They didn't have family support. Usually, they were abandoned by their families and they didn't have any support. They could not work in Turkey because they didn't have a work permit and they were victims of homophobia even in Turkey and were being discriminated against by other groups of refugees like other Iranian refugees or other Syrian refugees.
A lot of gay Syrian refugees are being raped at the camp. The UNHCR knows that the LGBT refugees are a priority and they have to be taken care of as soon as possible, but, as you know, resettlement is a voluntary action and the UNHCR cannot force any government to receive and accept and process these refugees.
The Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees would sincerely like to ask all members of Parliament and decision-makers to take.... We submitted a report of more than 45 pages about the state of refugees in Turkey and other countries and why they need special protection. I'm aware that it is being translated into French. You will be provided a copy when that's finished.
It's very important to pay attention to see how Canada can help these vulnerable cases, because they are in need of support. They are being abandoned by their families. They are at risk of execution and punishment due to their sexual orientation, and if we don't help them right now, there might be more victims. They might decide to end their lives in Turkey because no one will help them. It is very important. I ask you sincerely to consider all the options.
On what happened in 2011, I consider that project a successful one, because it was speeding up: the UNHCR was speeding up and the Canadian embassy knew how they had to deal with it. The only problem I can raise was the staffing, because the embassy in Tehran was closed and the embassy in Syria was closed. All of the pressure was in Turkey, on the embassy in Ankara, and they had limited numbers of interview rooms, staff, translators, and interpreters. I think that's another way of looking at it: to see how Canada can build its capacity in Ankara in order to address the huge backlog that we are experiencing right now.