Gay and lesbian refugee claimants struggling to shed old-world views of their sexuality are turning to new-age technology to make their case.
Facebook, the online social network, is being used as a tool by some claimants to help prove their sexual orientation to immigration officials in Canada.
“Sexuality has always been very complicated and when you have to prove it as a matter of life and death you will use any resource you have available to you,” Diego Macias of Among Friends, a Toronto-based gay and lesbian refugee support group, told The Canadian Press.
Those seeking refuge after 1992 were permitted to claim status based on their sexual orientation and required to prove their claim to the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB).
Wearing their sexuality on their sleeve was never an option for many back in their home countries and finding suitable evidence to support their claims can be difficult.
Macias tells his members to use technology to their advantage and feels facebook can help demonstrate involvement in the gay and lesbian community.
“During Pride we took hundreds of pictures and we have a facebook group and when people sign up to that group we encourage them to show their membership to the IRB member.”
In more than 75 countries people face jail, or worse, for having gay sex.
Acts of homosexuality are punishable by death in several countries, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Sudan.
In many other Muslim countries homosexuality carries prison sentences, fines, or corporal punishment.
Last week in Winnipeg a federal court judge upheld a decision to ship a Nigerian man back to his native country because the IRB ruled his claim of being gay was a hoax.
He says his life is in danger if he goes home.
Experts say it can take different components to paint a convincing picture of one’s sexual orientation for the Immigration and Refugee Board.
“I have used facebook (because) people put stuff on there about themselves and who they are, and in a relationship with,” immigration lawyer El-Farouk Khaki, who specialises in representing gay and lesbian refugee claimants, told The Canadian Press.
Khaki explains how many in this situation have spent years – even decades – trying to hide their sexuality back in their country of origin, so any glimpse into a claimant’s new life can help.
“Basically it’s like a jigsaw puzzle and you just try and take the little pieces here and there and you try and construct a larger picture of a person’s life,” he explained.
Khaki says he often provides his clients with a list of items that can help prove their sexual orientation to the immigration board – and there is very little off-limits.
Claimants can use letters from family and friends, pictures at Pride festivities and memberships on gay chat rooms.
Incorporating one of the most-used web-based networks in the world (facebook has 90 million members) is just the next logical step says Khaki.
“Before there was facebook, I was using other profiles,” says Khaki, giving examples of Gaydar.com and adam4adam.
Evidence can come in many forms, agrees Charles Hawkins, spokesman for the Immigration and Refugee Board.
“A refugee claimant may not have (typical) documentation to support their claim and individuals may have to be more resourceful in their submissions.
“A member of the board can accept any relevant evidence and then assign an appropriate value to that evidence.” Hawkins told The Canadian Press.
With Macias’ support group at more than 45 members and more coming through the doors every week, he says he will continue to use facebook to support refugee claims.
“I do foresee the IRB saying this is not an acceptable form of evidence,” says Macias.
“But until then I am going to keep on using it.”