Rainbow Refugee Association worried about end of program
Program started in 2011 to help LGBT refugees come to Canada
Activists in Nova Scotia are concerned that a federal government program helping to bring gay refugees to Canada is coming to an end next month, saying the move could put lives in danger.
The federal program was a pilot project that provided money to get setup in Canada and three months of living expenses. The amount is approximately $3,000 for each refugee.
In Nova Scotia, there are currently nine gay refugees who are living in the province.
A private group, the Rainbow Refugee Association, sponsored three of them with help from the federal government. They are concerned about the end of the program, which is due to expire at the end of March.
Pedram Niakan is one of the government sponsored refugees brought to Canada. He is from Iran and although he keeps in touch with his family there, he realizes he can't return home.
"It was so scary. Every morning I woke up and I live in fear," he said.
Iran is one of seven countries where being homosexual could lead to torture and even death, according to the association.
Since 2011, the Canadian citizenship and immigration program has helped LGBT refugees escape those nations and find a safe haven here.
Over the past 18 months, the Rainbow Refugee Association of Nova Scotia has sponsored five Iranians. They are still awaiting the arrival of two of them.
The group's co-chair Corrie Melanson worries fewer refugees will arrive without the federal help.
Online petition started
"I feel angry certainly, that this small pot of money is being cut and not being renewed," she said. When the program started, $100,000 was set aside to help sponsor LGBT refugees.
"It was a brave move of minister Jason Kenney five years ago to commit this funding and we'd like to see the government continue to be bold," Melanson said.
Although the program started in 2011, Melanson says they were only able to start bringing refugees to Nova Scotia in 2013.
LGBT groups across the country are lobbying to save the program and an online petition has been started as well. Melanson is hoping since it is an election year, they will be heard.
"This money is about saving lives," she said. "If people are unable to access Canada, either by government sponsorship or private sponsorship, then more people will either die or more people will live in fear of persecution or being persecuted in some way or another in the countries they live and cannot get out of. "
Nova Scotia was one of the first provinces to have private groups sponsor gay refugees
Niakan arrived in Nova Scotia in December 2013 after fleeing Iran and travelling through Turkey. Niakan hopes his boyfriend can find refugee status in the U.S., even if that means living apart.
"Now when I have a dream about Iran, it's like a nightmare for me," he said. "I can't imagine going back to Iran right now."
- A previous version of this story was unclear and implied Pedram Niakan wanted to find refugee status in the United States. In fact, it's his boyfriend who is trying to obtain refugee status in the U.S.Feb 11, 2015 9:48 AM AT