Manitoba

LGBT settlement group prepares for Syrian refugee arrivals in Winnipeg

​Reaching Out Winnipeg, a group that helps LGBT refugees and asylum seekers get settled in the city, is preparing for the arrival of Syrian refugees.

‘LGBT refugees are very vulnerable to violence and persecution,’ says Pride Winnipeg’s Jeff Myall

​Reaching Out Winnipeg, a group that helps LGBT refugees and asylum seekers get settled in the city, is preparing for the arrival of Syrian refugees. (iStock)

Reaching Out Winnipeg, a group that helps LGBT refugees and asylum seekers get settled in the city, is preparing for the arrival of Syrian refugees.

The federal government announced Monday that Canada's Syrian refugee plan would be limited to women, children and families.

LGBT groups in Canada immediately raised concerns about the exclusion of gay men trying to escape the area.

On Tuesday, the federal government confirmed gay men would not be excluded from the list of admissible refugees.

"We know, firsthand, from those types of countries, LGBT refugees are very vulnerable to violence and persecution," said Pride Winnipeg's Jeff Myall. "We talk about how for gay men over there, it's extremely taboo. For gay women it can be just as bad, because they don't have the same kind of rights that men have. For gay women, in some cases, it's even more dangerous."

There's no way to know how many LGBT refugees could arrive in Winnipeg or Canada before the end of the year, but Canadian statistics can give us some idea, Myall said.

"In Canada, we've had several studies done. Typically it ranges from five to 10 per cent of any population will openly identify as LGBTTQ, but of course that leaves the question of how many people are not identifying," he said.

Anyone concerned that people might self-identify as gay in order to qualify for refugee status should remember that would carry great personal risk, Myall said.

"With any type of scenario, there's always the possibility that somebody's going to try to break the rules," he said. "The main thing we fall back to is [that in] the culture that a lot of these people are coming from, being LGBTTQ is extremely taboo. It's not something you just declare or decide on a whim you're going to try to identify as. In some cases it's very dangerous to do so, because if you're caught at all by the wrong people, your life could be in jeopardy."

Groups doing work with LGBT refugees have programs to "ensure privacy to the furthest extent" and preparations are already underway at Reaching Out Winnipeg, he said.

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