Gay Syrian refugees start new lives in Vancouver
Same-sex couple among the first of 1,300 refugees Canada promised to bring in by end of 2014
Two gay Syrian refugees are enjoying their first full day in Canada Wednesday, thanks to the efforts of local sponsors and supporters.
"I want to ride a roller coaster for the first time," says Danny Ramadan. "I would also like to give back to the community that brought me here. It's just beyond (my dreams)."
Ramadan and his partner Aamer (who has requested that we not use his last name or photograph because he's not out to his family) are among the first refugees from the war in Syria to arrive in Vancouver.
The Syrian war has created over 3 million refugees and, almost a year ago, Canada pledged to take in 1,300 before the end of 2014.
Fleeing racism and homophobia
Before coming to Canada this week, the couple had been living in Beirut, Lebanon.
But Ramadan says that as tensions rise in Syria, there's increasing racism towards Syrians in Lebanon—a nation that has taken in over 1.1 million Syrian refugees so far.
By coming to Canada, the pair is also hoping to escape the homophobia they faced in Syria and Lebanon.
"Here, I have the ability to be myself finally," says Ramadan. "I have been gay-bashed in the Arab world. My family disowned me at times. But here, I feel like I have a family somehow."
That extended family includes sponsors like Ron Rosell.
He's part of a group of Vancouverites who helped bring the couple to Canada by raising funds, working through the application process and lobbying MPs and MLAs.
Refugee process too slow: advocates
There have been criticisms of how long it's taking for Syrian refugees to arrive in Canada.
But Rosell says the federal government seems to have sped up the lengthy process in recent months, in part due to public pressure and media attention.
He'd like the process to move even faster.
"For a student visa it takes to two months. For a sponsored refugee it take at least a year, if not longer," says Rosell.
For a student visa it takes to two months. For a sponsored refugee it take at least a year, if not longer- Vancouver-based refugee sponsor Ron Rosell
In that time, he says, a lot can happen: "You can get killed," he said.
Rosell and the other sponsors have secured housing for the couple and are helping them work and adjust to their new home.
Rainbow Refugee, an organization that advocates for refugees fleeing persecution based on sexual orientation, was also instrumental in bringing the couple to Canada.
The Canadian government has identified gay men, children, religious minorities and women facing sexual violence as being in particular peril among Syrian refugees.