A gay man in Afghanistan who fears for his life has waited a year and a half to come to B.C. as a refugee, and he worries continued delay could lead to his death.
The federal NDP is calling on the government to intervene directly to get him out of a dangerous situation.
CBC News is protecting the man's identity over concerns for his safety. "Anwar," 29, was forced to leave his family home after he says he was outed as a homosexual by Afghan police.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous places in the world to identify as LGBT. Same-sex sexual acts are prohibited and punishable with imprisonment, or under Shariah law, the death penalty.
"My dad called me and [said] 'After that you're [not] my son. If you come to our home I will kill you. Never come home.' My uncle called me [and said, 'If] I find you I will kill you," said Anwar in a phone call to CBC from an undisclosed location in Afghanistan.
The Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada website estimates an application like Anwar's has a 65-month wait. A group in Chilliwack, B.C., is sponsoring the man in conjunction with Rainbow Refugee, a group working with Canadians to sponsor vulnerable LGBT people.
"In British Columbia, [this case] is our highest priority and I would say it's in our top three in Canada," said Sharalyn Jordan with Rainbow Refugee.
Asylum applications cannot be made from one's home country, so Anwar bribed officials in February 2016 to obtain a visa to travel to Pakistan, he said. After submitting his application at the Canadian Embassy in Islamabad, he was apprehended at a checkpoint by local police. Although in possession of the visa, Anwar said, he was detained, interrogated and assaulted before being told to leave Pakistan immediately.
Now the university-educated man is in hiding. Anwar said he moves from place to place almost weekly — often alone and afraid.
"Every day, every day I'm thinking, tomorrow, what will happen to me? Maybe someone kills me or sometimes ... honestly I'm thinking about how I kill myself. What should I do to stop my life? After about two or three hours, my mind will change."
Anwar said that on Sept. 5 he was tracked down by his cousins, who beat him and left him badly injured.
A Chilliwack man who first met Anwar while working for an NGO in Afghanistan said that being openly gay in that country is unheard of.
"It brings shame upon oneself, it brings shame upon your family, it can result in your being unemployable in many instances.… I've never even heard of a case of somebody being out in Afghanistan," said "Kyle," whose name has also been changed to protect Anwar's identity.
Kyle has seen Anwar about a dozen times in the last year and a half, in part to check on his well-being, and as his refugee sponsor, to verify his condition.
"[Anwar] would come in covered in bruises, or he hadn't slept for days. So often he'd come in looking very rough. But for me it was actually also important to see that, to know that we weren't being taken advantage of and to really verify the veracity of everything he was saying."
When contacted by the CBC, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship said the Liberal government is creating a secretariat to develop and co-ordinate government initiatives on LGBT issues, but it will not answer specific questions about this case. The department was also unable to say how many LGBT refugee applicants from Afghanistan had been accepted.
"The government of Canada does not track refugees by their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression," the department said in a statement.
NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan has been following the case, and she estimates that without government intervention Anwar won't be cleared to come to Canada until 2021.
"Given the urgency and dire situation, I am requesting the minister to take the exceptional step of directly intervening and using the Urgent Protection Program to immediately resettle this individual to Canada. If we act immediately, we could save a life." said Kwan.
Anwar's sponsor is trying to stay hopeful.
"To expect someone like that to survive for over five years in a dire situation means that on paper we say we accept refugees, but in practice do we really? Are we really honouring that commitment?" asked Kyle.