As It Happens

Gay refugee couple separated in Turkey now 'free and together' in Canada

A gay couple who fled their home countries so they could be together, only to be forcibly separated in Turkey, have arrived safely in Canada thanks to the efforts of private refugee sponsors.

Alireza and Kiran — brought to Vancouver by private sponsors — are planning to get married

Alireza and Kiran have arrived safely in Canada. As It Happens is withholding their full names and faces. (Submitted by Guy Dubé )

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A gay couple who fled their home countries so they could be together, only to be forcibly separated in Turkey, have arrived safely in Canada, thanks to the efforts of private refugee sponsors.

Alireza, who is from Iran, and his partner and Kiran, who is from India, arrived in Vancouver on Thursday, greeted at the airport by members of the Vancouver Rainbow Refugee group who sponsored them.

As It Happens is withholding their full names because their families back home still don't know they are gay.

"After what all we went through, it was the best day of our lives," Alireza told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. "When we landed… we already felt home. We already felt safe."

Doug Janzen, left, Devon Haag, centre, and Mark Gilbert, right, of Vancouver Rainbow Refugee wait for Alireza and Kiran at the Vancouver airport on Aug. 30. (Submitted by Guy Dubé)

Alireza first left Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by death, in 2011. He fled to India to be with Kiran, but that country also forbids "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" under an 1860s law first imposed by the British and usually used to punish gay men. 

So the couple travelled together to Turkey in hope of claiming asylum in a Western country.

But — like many refugees — they ended up stuck in limbo for years, legally unable to work while they awaited resettlement.

Then, in early June, they were pulled apart

Turkish immigration authorities moved Kiran from the small town they had been settled in to the city of Istanbul to receive mental health treatment for his severe anxiety.

But Alireza was not allowed to join his partner because Turkey did not recognize them as a family. To stay together, they were told they must have marriage certificate — an impossibility in a country that does not have same-sex marriage.

"It was really very difficult. I didn't know what's going to happen. I had anxiety and panic attacks," Kiran said. "It was a terrible time we faced."

That's when Vancouver Rainbow Refugee joined forces with three Vancouver lawmakers — NDP MP Jenny Kwan, NDP MP Peter Julian and Liberal MP Joyce Murray — to urge the federal government to expedite the pair's resettlement process.

The couple got a call on June 28 from the Canadian consulate in Ankara to schedule an interview and start the process of moving to Canada. 

"After we disconnected the call I was, like, standing in the same place and... I couldn't control my feelings for like more than half an hour," Alireza said.

"I was just speechless and I didn't know what to say or how to react because I really didn't expect that to happen. And it was the greatest thing that happened for us, and it kind of washed off all our bad feelings."

Warm welcome 

Less than a month later, they received word their refugee status has been approved. They arrived in Vancouver on Aug. 30. 

"Before the flight took off, we were not sure it's really happening," Alizera said.

"The flight took off, so we kind of had a sigh of relief that we are leaving Turkey and we are going to the beautiful country of Canada to be with their beautiful people — the kind people who have us this opportunity to be safe and together."

Kiran said they were given a "warm welcome" when they landed in Vancouver, which he described as "a beautiful city."

"It has been an absolute privilege and honour to finally meet them and welcome them to Canada," Guy Dubé, one of the couple's sponsors, told As It Happens in an email.

"They turned out to be extremely sweet and nice guys and it's been a pleasure getting to know them. We look forward to seeing them grow and shine now they can finally live life without the fear of oppression."

Alireza said their next step, after they've had some time to settle in, will be to get married. 

"We are going to start making our life here and experiencing how it is to be free and together," Alireza said.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Alireza and Kiran produced by Jeanne Armstrong.