Gay Iranian man will be allowed to stay in New Zealand after officials determine he could face death or imprisonment if forced to return home
Gay immigrants seeking asylum have made headlines in both hemispheres so far in February, with a case in Canada and one in New Zealand ending up with opposite results.
Canadian officials have denied asylum to a Nicaraguan man because they say he cannot prove he was openly gay when he ran away from his native country at the age of 12.
According to reports published in the Toronto Globe and Mail, Alvaro Antonio Orozco, now 21, will be deported on Tuesday, Feb. 13, unless Immigration Minister Diane Finley grants his request that he be allowed to stay in Canada on humanitarian grounds.
Orozco told the Globe and Mail that his father used to beat him and call him derogatory, anti-gay names.
He told the newspaper he felt and behaved differently from other boys from a young age, pursuing artistic endeavors and preferring to play indoors. He also said that now he often hangs out in Toronto’s gay clubs and that he wants to be a nurse.
But the Immigration and Refugee Board said Orozco offered no evidence that he was sexually active during his teenage years and was not clear about his sexual orientation when he first fled Nicaragua.
“He is not a homosexual … and fabricated the sexual orientation component to support a non-existent claim for protection in Canada,” the board said in its decision.
But Orozco’s lawyer, El-Farouk Khaki, told the newspaper the board’s decision “shows a lack of understanding of issues facing queer kids from homophobic cultures and what they have to deal with in terms of gender stereotypes.”
According to the Globe and Mail, Orozco said he left Nicaragua just before his 13th birthday, and that he hitch-hiked across Central America and Mexico before swimming across the Rio Grande with a boy from the Honduras he met during his trip.
Orozco said he was arrested by U.S. Immigration officials in Houston in about a year later, but was released after promising to return to Nicaragua. Instead, he fled north to Canada.
Sodomy has been illegal in Nicaragua since the penal code was amended in 1992, and Orozco has said he fears he will be jailed or even killed if he is forced to return to his home country.
On the other side of the world, Ahmad Tahooni, a 39-year-old who fled from his home in Iran to avoid persecution as a gay man, will be allowed to stay in New Zealand, even though he reportedly misled immigration authorities there about his reasons for leaving Iran, according to reports in The Dominion Post.
Tahooni arrived in New Zealand in 2000, claiming to have fled his home country because he feared retribution for his involvement in student demonstrations. He later admitted that story was false, and was denied asylum. His appeal was dismissed in 2003 because officials felt his story was “implausible in the extreme,” the newspaper reported. He appealed a second time on the grounds that he is gay.
Tahooni said he lied initially because he was too embarrassed to acknowledge that he is gay because of the oppressive and aggressive attitude toward gays in Iran, the Dominion Post reported, but has since “evolved into a confident even flamboyant man” who is open about being gay, the Refugee Status Appeals Authority said.
And even though immigration officials believe Tahooni also gave false evidence in his second appeal, they said he really is gay and could face death or imprisonment if forced to return to Iran.
The newspaper quoted officials as saying, “He is unable, and not required, to act discreetly in order to avoid being identified as a homosexual. His current lifestyle is in stark contrast to the atmosphere of intimidation created in Iran, including through public executions of gays.”
Mouzhgan Shabani, a spokesperson for the Iranian community in Auckland, told the Dominion Post that the Iranian government would have learned of Tahooni’s refugee application and his homosexuality, and if he was sent back, “100 per cent he would die.”
Iranian officials enraged gay rights and human rights activists around the world in 2005 when they executed two teenagers by hanging. Iranian officials said the two were executed for raping a younger teen boy. But some activists, including Peter Tatchell with the English gay rights group Outrage, have insisted the two older teens were killed for having consensual sex.
Some in New Zealand have criticized immigration officials for exercising a double standard in allowing Tahooni to remain while at the same time refusing asylum to an Iranian refugee who says if he is forced to return to Iran, he would be jailed for killed since he converted from Islam to Catholicism.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 9, 2007