If the Liberal government abandons hundreds of LGBT refugees, does anyone care?

Canada broke a promise to hundreds of LGBT Iranians, who are now stranded in Turkey. Now what?

What would you do?

Imagine for a moment that you were a gay teenager living under a regime that executes people like you. That when your family found out, they subjected you to electroshock therapy. And when you fell in love with an older man, who took advantage of you, the people in your town heard about it, beat you and ostracized you.

Would you run away?

I would. I’d find any means necessary to get away, even if it meant ending up alone and in an unknown country.

And that’s exactly what what Amirhossein Zolghadri did. He made his way to Turkey, a country that wouldn’t imprison or execute him because of his sexual orientation.

For so many LGBT Iranian refugees, Turkey is a waypoint, a necessary pitstop. But it’s a dangerous one.

Zolghadri has been harassed in public. He’s been subjected to abuse. Raped.

But he stayed in Turkey, because Canada made a promise to him. The Canadian government assured him that it would fairly assess whether he was entitled to resettlement in Canada.

Canada broke that promise. After a year of processing his application, Canada suddenly told him he’s not welcome. He’s not Syrian. He should apply to the United States instead.

And then, President Donald Trump signed his infamous executive order suspending refugee resettlement and banning anyone from seven Muslim-majority countries. Though the fate of that order is uncertain, what is clear is that the American president will do everything in his power to keep people like Zolghadri out of the country.

So now Zolghadri sits in his borrowed apartment in a mid-sized Turkish city, painting and thinking. He thinks back with regret to the human smuggler he turned down. And he watches Canadian politicians debate his fate.

“There is no door open, no hope,” he told my colleague Dylan Robertson over Skype. “The options to me right now are either suicide or a hunger strike.”

If you were him, would you see any other alternatives?

The Trudeau government has so far not addressed the fate of hundreds of LGBT Iranians like Zolghadri, despite being pushed to address the question in Parliament.

Instead, Ahmed Hussen, the new immigration minister who was himself once a teenage refugee, petulantly objected that he wouldn’t take lessons on compassion from the Conservative Party.


With the exception of CBC Radio, the story of hundreds of LGBT Iranians stranded in Turkey has been ignored by Canadian media outlets, though The Guardian and BuzzFeed have gone in-depth on the issue.

I find it hard to believe that if the Harper government had ended a hugely successful LGBT refugee resettlement program, that the Liberal Party and progressives around the country wouldn’t be enraged.

We have a special responsibility to people like Zolghadri. He’s stuck in Turkey because of a promise made, then broken, on our behalf.

So what would you do if you made a promise to a vulnerable young man and broke it, leaving him stranded and alone?

If you’re the Liberal government, the answer appears to be nothing at all.

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