A gay Syrian refugee in Vancouver has become a Facebook bridge between Canadians who are interested in sponsoring gay refugees and people who need support to come in.
Danny Ramadan, 31, has been living in Vancouver for more than a year. He fled his home country in 2012 and lived as a refugee in Lebanon before he was granted asylum to Canada in 2014.
That happened because he had help from a Syrian-Canadian friend who put him in contact with one person, which led him to another person until a refugee sponsorship group was formed.
“It was Facebook, lots of friends on Facebook.”
He said ever since he immigrated to Canada he became infamous in his home country. Syrian local media were portraying him as “the faggot guy who went to Canada.” But it actually helped him.
Now, he’s passing that help forward.
Ramadan said he added over a hundred Syrian gay men and women on Facebook in the past three months, and he has been helping them with questions on how to find refugee sponsorship in Canada. He also works as a volunteer coordinator at Qmunity, a Vancouver-based queer resource centre.
“I am privileged. I came here and I made it. I lived in safety for the past year, I found a job that I like, I am happy. And I have a lot of free time in my hands, why not help?”
He said he started working on sponsorship six months ago and raised around $10,000 from people who want to help.
He and his partner have been working with a network of 28 Canadians who are sponsoring four gay refugees.
“This represents what Canada is. Canada is interested in supporting Syrian refugees.”
Still, Ramadan said it is a difficult task to help everyone who seeks him.
“The worst decision that I have to make, every single time, is, when I have a group of Canadians who are coming together to sponsor an LGBTQ-identified person, go to my Facebook and decide who is that person.”
He said he tries to connect the sponsors with the most urgent cases on his Facebook based on family, financial and medical situation.
“The lesbian woman, Rory, that I am helping to sponsor was dishonoured by her family, lives on her own in Turkey. A single lesbian woman who is under a lot of stress.”
In another case, Ramadan and a circle of Canadian sponsors are helping a gay Syrian man who has a liver disease and lives as a refugee in Turkey.
“They all have their stories, they all have their lives.”
Unlike other refugees, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning (LGBTQ) refugees often undergo the integration process almost entirely alone, without their families and the rest of the refugee community.
Ramadan said adaptation is a challenging process that takes time and it won’t happen overnight.
“It took me like a year to understand the ins and outs of how people interact here. Not to mention that I struggled a lot with finding a community to belong to. It’s a culture shock, to be honest.”
Recently, the federal government decided to allow single male Syrian refugees to be resettled in Canada only if they identify as gay, bisexual or transgender. That was in addition to permitting to women, children and families to enter.
Ramadan said people shouldn’t forget there are other minorities who face prejudice and persecution back home. “I am hoping that the LGBTQ community can stand with the Syrian LGBTQ community and help them coming here.”
Jacob Owens helped donate $620 to Rory’s crowdfunding campaign. He said he and his boyfriend raised the money with donations from a party they threw during the last Vancouver Pride parade.
“We are so fortunate to live here with our freedoms, it’s the least we can do,” Owens said.
Guidelines for resettlement assessment from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees say the eligibility and priority level of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) cases must be determined through an interview.
According to the guidelines, LGBTI refugees will likely gravitate towards major urban centres because they offer more opportunities for social support networks and resources.