Iranian “queer railroad” to help LGBT asylum seekers

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

A new group that will aid Iranians escaping the country because they are gay, bisexual, lesbian or trans has been established.

The Iranian Queer Railroad aims to support them while they are refugees and help them get asylum.

“I decided to call our new group the Iranian Queer Railroad after the Underground Railroad in the 19th century, which was an informal network of routes and safe houses helping black slaves in America to escape to freedom in Canada,” founder member Arsham Parsi told Gay City News.

“It was clear to me we needed a new organisation with fresh blood and a structure dedicated solely to helping queer refugees, to help them flee Iran, to support them while they are still in transit countries like Turkey, to assist them in finding their way through the harrowing bureaucratic maze that faces them in order to gain asylum, and to help them get settled and cope with setting up a new life in gay-friendly countries.”

Mr Parsi estimates there are 145 Iranians he knows of who are seeking asylum in various countries because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

22 of them are in the UK, where the issue of Iranian asylum seekers has proved controversial.

Since Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979, human rights groups claim that between 3,000 and 4,000 people have been executed under Sharia law for the crime of homosexuality.

The British government has been accused of being more inclined to believe Iran than human rights groups on the issue of how gay people are treated in that country.

A campaign started by gay rights activists and taken up by The Independent newspaper, MPs, MEPs and members of the House of Lords led to Medhi Kazemi being granted asylum in Britain.

!n 2006, at the age of 16 he left Iran to travel to England on a student visa and continue his education.

Two years later while still in the UK he learned that Iranian authorities had arrested his boyfriend Parham back in Iran, and that his boyfriend had been forced to name Mr Kazemi as someone with whom he had had a relationship.

Mr Kazemi’s father then received a visit from the Tehran police, with an arrest warrant for his son.

In late April 2006, Medhi’s uncle told him Parham had been put to death.

Mr Kazemi’s request for asylum was turned down by the United Kingdom.

After fearing for his life he fled to Netherlands and sought asylum there.

He was returned to the UK in April and the Home Secretary said she would review his case. He was granted asylum.

Earlier this month Lin Homer, chief executive of the Borders and Immigration Agency (BIA), said at a conference in Glasgow that judges consider the “practical consequences” of sending gay asylum seekers back to their country of origin, and not that country’s social or legal views on homosexuality.

Ms Homer said that bans or conservative views on homosexuality in asylum seekers’ home countries are not reason enough to allow them to stay in Britain.

“What the court takes into account is the practical consequences for the individuals concerned,” she said.

“The simple presence of either a law or a culture that frowns upon homosexuality is not of itself a reason [to grant asylum].

“I think these decisions are made carefully and thoughtfully.”

In June Jacqui Smith was criticised when a letter she had written to a Lib Dem peer was published.

On the subject of people from Iran seeking asylum in the UK on the grounds of their sexual orientation, she wrote:

“Current case law handed down by the asylum and immigration tribunal concludes that the evidence does not show a real risk of discovery of, or adverse action against gay and lesbian people who are discreet about their sexual orientation.”