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Témoignage : menacé de castration en Syrie un réfugié homosexuel soulagé d'être au Canada

Témoignage : menacé de castration en Syrie un réfugié homosexuel soulagé d'être au Canada

>> Gay Syrian refugee finds acceptance in ‘respectful’ Canada

S’il n’avait pas reçu de menaces, Rasheed aurait pu croire que ses opinions politiques étaient la seule raison pour laquelle la police syrienne le harcelait.

Ses amis et lui avaient commencé malgré eux à attirer l’attention des policiers à Damas dès 2012. Ils avaient été informés que leur présumée opposition au régime du président Bachar el-Assad expliquait ces rencontres de plus en plus tendues.

Mais Rasheed — qui n’a pas dévoilé son homosexualité à ses proches et requiert l'anonymat — pense que le vrai motif lui a été révélé le jour où il a été emmené à la prison locale en compagnie d’une poignée d’autres hommes présumés homosexuels.

L’agent qui lui a bandé les yeux et qui l’a battu avec des câbles électriques a en effet fait des commentaires révélateurs après avoir saisi son cellulaire qui contenait des photos ne laissant planer aucun doute sur ses préférences sexuelles.

Hormis les railleries et les insultes homophobes, les policiers ont menacé de lui faire subir des sévices bien plus cruels.

« Nous allons te castrer, nous allons te violer. Tu ne reverras jamais la lumière du soleil », se souvient la victime.

C’est ce genre de comportement, qui correspond à la norme en sol syrien selon Rasheed, qui a permis au jeune homme de 32 ans d’obtenir le statut de réfugié au Canada et de commencer une nouvelle vie.

Le Haut Commissariat des Nations unies pour les réfugiés a placé les hommes célibataires ouvertement gays, bisexuels ou transgenres sur la liste des personnes les plus vulnérables en Syrie et nécessitant un transfert urgent dans un autre pays.

Le Canada a respecté les directives de l’organisme onusien en sélectionnant les 25 000 demandeurs d’asile qu’il s’est engagé à accueillir au cours des prochains mois, faisant des hommes homosexuels des candidats prioritaires aux côtés des familles complètes, des femmes en danger et des autres membres des minorités sexuelles.

Rasheed a toutefois failli rater sa chance de refaire sa vie à Toronto, où il réside depuis la fin de 2015. Il séjournait chez des proches au Liban lorsque les autorités syriennes ont fait irruption dans la maison de ses parents, à Damas, en plein milieu de la nuit dans le but de l’arrêter.

D’après le jeune homme, son père et sa mère ont réussi à communiquer avec lui à Beyrouth pour le prévenir de ne pas rentrer en Syrie. C’est là qu’il a entamé les démarches pour venir s’installer au Canada.

Selon ceux qui travaillent avec les réfugiés issus de la communauté LGBT, « il est rare que les gens dans cette situation bénéficient du soutien de leur famille. »

Justin Taylor, le directeur général de l’organisme torontois Rainbow Railroad, affirme que les personnes fuyant les pays où l’homophobie est profondément enracinée dans la culture arrivent dans leur lieu d’adoption avec encore moins de ressources que la plupart des autres demandeurs d’asile.

« Les gens que nous aidons sont en conflit avec leurs proches, explique-t-il. Ils ont été victimes de violence de la part de leur propre communauté parce qu’ils sont LGBT. Ce sont des cas très spéciaux qui sont souvent confrontés à beaucoup de risques pendant qu’ils attendent d’être réinstallés ailleurs. »

Rasheed confie que ses premiers mois à Toronto se sont bien déroulés malgré quelques difficultés, dont celle de trouver un logement abordable.

Il soutient que le contraste entre le traitement réservé aux homosexuels en Syrie et au Canada est particulièrement frappant. La relative acceptation des Canadiens par rapport aux gais le réjouit.

« Je trouve cela très respectueux, indique-t-il. Chaque fois que je dis que je suis gai ou que je vais dans des endroits gais, dans la société en tant que telle, je sens que le fait que je sois homosexuel est respecté. »

>> If it weren’t for the castration threats, Rasheed might have believed Syrian police were only hounding him for his political views.

He and his friends had begun receiving unwelcome attention from cops in his hometown of Damascus as early as 2012, and they were told that perceived opposition to Syria’s extremist government was the reason for the increasingly tense encounters.

But Rasheed, who requested not to have his full name used for this story because he hasn’t told his family about his sexuality, believes the real motive came to the fore the day he and a few fellow gay men were carted off to a local jail.

The police who blindfolded him and beat him with electrical cables made revealing comments after seizing his cellphone containing pictures and videos that made his sexual preferences plain.

Amid derogatory taunts and homophobic slurs, he said the officers threatened him with much worse.

“‘We’re going to castrate you ... We’re going to rape you. You’ll never see this world again,’” Rasheed said they told him.

Such attitudes — the norm in his homeland, says the 32-year-old — were what allowed Rasheed to successfully claim refugee status in Canada and begin a new life.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has named single men identifying as gay, bisexual or transgender as among those who are most vulnerable in Syria and in need of urgent relocation to another country.

Canada is following the commissioner’s guidelines in identifying 25,000 refugees for government-assisted resettlement in the next few months, and has included gay men among priority candidates. They join complete families, women at risk and members of sexual minorities.

Rasheed narrowly missed his fresh start in Toronto, where he’s been living since late last year.

He happened to be spending time with family in Lebanon when Syrian authorities barged into his family home in the middle of the night looking to arrest him.

Rasheed said his parents managed to contact him in Beirut and warn him against returning to Syria. He then began the process of applying to come to Canada.

According to those who work with refugees from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, family support in those cases is rare.

Justin Taylor, executive director of Toronto-based Rainbow Railroad, said those fleeing homophobia arrive in their new homes with even fewer resources than most of their fellow refugees.

While many are privately sponsored by friends or family living abroad, Taylor said many of those fleeing countries with a deep-seeded homophobic culture don’t have such options to fall back on.

“The people we help are in conflict with their families,” he said.

“They are facing violence from their own community ... because they’re LGBT. These are very special cases that often are still in a lot of risk while they’re waiting to be resettled.”

Taylor said the lack of family resources can also lead to complications for sponsoring LGBT refugees. Most of them are sponsored by groups of strangers, many of whom Taylor said tend to disband during the months or even years it can take to process resettlement paperwork.

That is problem is being alleviated for Syrians due to the federal government’s initiative, and Taylor said his organization is now offering more help than ever before.

Rainbow Railroad once fielded one to three requests for assistance every month, but Taylor said the past year has seen those numbers increase to at least one per day, the majority of which have come from the Middle East.

Taylor said the first few refugees sponsored by his organization are due to arrive in Canada within the next few months.

Once here, they will encounter many of the same challenges as traditional refugees — including finding housing and learning language skills.

But their status as the LGBT refugees presents some unique challenges.

Karlene Williams-Clarke, manager of direct services at Toronto’s 519 agency for the city’s gay community, said they face more limited options for medical care due to the need to find “LGBT-friendly” doctors.

The centre also offers individual and group counselling options to help new arrivals cope with the trauma they may have endured, she said.

Rasheed said his first few months in Toronto have gone smoothly despite some challenges addressing his medical needs and finding affordable housing.

He said he is particularly struck by the contrast in attitudes between his old and new home.

His family back in Syria, whom he described as “very liberal,” either don’t know of his sexuality or hold out hope that he will some day marry a woman.

He said he revels in the relative acceptance he’s found among Canadians.

“I find it very respectful,” he said. “Whenever I say I’m gay or whenever I go to gay places, in the society itself, they respect you for being gay.”

avec Michelle McQuigge