Gay Saudi Diplomat: ’I’ll Be Killed If I Return Home’
The life-threatening peril that gay asylum seekers to Western nations face if they should be deported back to homophobic nations has brought GLBT equality advocates head-to-head with immigration policies, but not sparked much mainstream interest. Now, a Saudi diplomat who says he is gay has made the claim that if he is sent back home, he will face death.
The diplomat, Ali Ahmad Asseri, says that he has been ordered back to Saudi Arabia because he is gay, reported the Associated Press in a Sept. 11 article. Asseri also said that he had befriended a Jewish woman, and this was also a matter of concern. Moreover, Asseri has been a dissident in critiquing the influence that "militant" Muslim religious leaders exert over the Saudi government. Asseri’s critique was posted online.
NBC News reported that, according to Asseri, his diplomatic passport had been revoked by the Saudi government. "My life is in a great danger here and if I go back to Saudi Arabia, they will kill me openly in broad daylight," Asseri told NBC.
Asseri reportedly has been questioned by Homeland Security following his asylum claim. The diplomat is stationed in Los Angeles.
The plight of LGBT people from nations where anti-gay sentiment--either legal or social--runs deep has been covered only sporadically in the mainstream press, but it is an ongoing problem that will only grow worse if anti-gay religious and political trends continue to spread worldwide. Last year, the Associated Press covered the subject in an in-depth article that looked at how GLBT refugees from nations like Jamaica and Brazil face sometimes long odds in trying to convince the gatekeepers to more gay-friendly countries to allow them to stay. The article cited "a small but growing number of... gay, lesbian and transgender asylum seekers who are using U.S. immigration courts to argue that their sexual orientation makes it too dangerous for them to return home."
The article also reported that more asylum seekers were heading away from their anti-gay home countries in "the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean," and said that according to GLBT equality advocates, LGBT refugees were driven out of their homelands by "rape, persecution, violence, and threats of death." There is only anecdotal evidence to support the perception that such cases are growing, the AP reported, since immigration authorities do not track the number of LGBT asylum seekers who successfully seek permission to reside here.
LGBT refugees can find it hard to convince authorities that they genuinely need asylum because of their sexuality or gender identity. It can even be hard for them to flee their countries; one gay refugee from Jamaica told the AP that an immigration organization refused to help him because he was gay. "One group said my case clashed with their Christian values," he related.
One spot of hope is that some groups, like the New York-based Immigration Equality, are having more success arguing on behalf of their LGBT clients. Other groups, such as the San Francisco-based Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration (ORAM) have been established specifically to help meet the needs of LGBT refugees. Even so, their efforts may constitute only a drop in the proverbial bucket, as anti-gay trends grow globally.
"We think, sadly, we have a growing role to play," said ORAM’s Jon Huggett. "The bigger organizations are doing good work but they need help understanding the issues our people face."
Fleeing Persecution from Governments-and Families
ORAM founder Neil Grungras noted that LGBTs are often fleeing as much from their own families as from their governments or from anti-gay sentiments that pervade their society, often intensified by religious leaders. In some societies, gays can be targeted for "honor killings" by relatives who feel that their families have been disgraced. One cross-dressing Arab gay performer was abducted from Tel Aviv by family members who beat and imprisoned him; the young man was warned by his own mother that male relatives might kill him.
Grungras also told a panel convened to examine the issue that gays can find themselves stranded for years in between countries. For Iranians hoping to emigrate to Canada or the U.S., Turkey is a first stop--and, for many, a long and costly one. Grungras told the panel that Iranian refugees could find themselves stranded, without resources, for years on end in Turkey--where they are expected to pay fees to the government during their stay. "Most turn to survival sex," Grungras told the panelists.
Another panelist, attorney Shawn Matloob, said that it was "almost a given" that Middle Eastern and North African HIV-positive individuals could expect to be persecuted.
Deportations of gay refugees by the U.S. and U.K. have generated interest among LGBT equality advocates. In one instance, a man who had been living in the U.K. for seven years was deported to his anti-gay country of origin, only for the British government to launch an attempt to retrieve him and bring him back to safety. The man, referred to as Mr. X in media accounts, was reportedly denied legal counsel and treated in other unlawful ways by immigration officials.
Similarly, GLBT quality advocates charged that U.K. immigration officials acted improperly in handling the cases of two others. Gay refugee John Nyombi had been put aboard a plane and flown back to Entebbe, Uganda, where homosexuality is not only against the law, it can be punished with life in prison. And an Azerbaijani national, Babakhan Badalov, was sent back to his country of origin, where homosexuality is not illegal, but where, he claimed, his sexuality and outspoken critique of the government made him a target.
In both cases, supporters of the men said that the government had broken its own laws, with Nyombi’s lawyers calling their client’s deportation "an illegal act of the UK Border Agency," and advocates for Badalov saying that the UK Border Agency altered their details against Badalov just before removing him from the country, and, moreover, did so on a Saturday, when the action would not draw immediate scrutiny.
Further, Badalov’s supporters claim, the gay refugee was addressed abusively by one Border Agency officer, who reportedly told Badalov, "You make us sick," adding, "you’re going back where you belong."
In the United States, bi-national gay and lesbian couples are not accorded the same rights and protections as heterosexual couples. For straights, the option of marriage and sponsorship for a spouse exist; but same-sex couples must negotiate a complex maze of legal and bureaucratic hurdles that leave most gay families separated, even if one of them faces return to a dangerous political or social climate hostile to LGBTs.
Last year, a Brazilian asylum seeker was denied permission to remain here despite having been raped in his home country, and despite his committed relationship with a Massachusetts man. Among other obstacles, the couple faced the anti-gay 1996 federal law known as DOMA, the so-called "Defense of Marriage" Act, which specifically targets same-sex couples for denial of any sort of federal recognition.