A gay man who escaped persecution in Syria and settled in Canada is now using his experience to help other LGBT+ refugees.
Basel Abou Hamrah told CBC Radio that coming out in his home country, or in the refugee camp in Lebanon where he spent two years, would have been too dangerous.
He said: “I came from a culture where LGBTQ people are a topic that no one discusses.
“I would be disowned by my community, by my father, by my family. If they figured out that I had a boyfriend, maybe I could go to jail.
“It’s tough to be part of the LGBTQ community back home. We lived secretly.”
Abou Hamrah eventually made it to Edmonton, Alberta, in 2015, but he still lived with the trauma of having to live in secret and was still fearful of coming out.
“When I came here I was looking at how I could be connected, but I was too afraid to come out to anyone here to help me connect,” he said.
When he finally built up the courage to come out as gay to his caseworker, the connections she helped him make with other LGBT+ refugees became an essential support network.
Abou Hamrah became a settlement counsellor with the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, and then founded a support group with the centre called Rainbow Refuge for LGBT+ refugees.
The group helps newcomers complete their claims, find lawyers, apply for work permits, make friends and access healthcare and housing. Over two years he has helped 130 LGBT+ people settle in Edmonton.
He added: “When they meet me, they relate to my story. They relate to me as a person and that makes it easier for them to express themselves and to ask for support and engage within the community.”
Abou Hamrah said those helped by Rainbow Refuge also go to Pride celebrations together, and added: “If we go all as a community, they feel like, I can be who I am. I am free.”