November 24, 2015 7:18 pm

Could prioritizing gay Syrian refugees do more harm than good?

yrian refugees walk at the Zatari Syrian Refugee Camp, northeast of Amman, Jordan, on Oct. 5, 2015.

Jamal Nasrallah/The Canadian Press
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VANCOUVER — The federal government says it will allow single male Syrian refugees to be resettled in Canada if they identify as gay, bisexual or transgender. But, a prominent human rights organization says that plan could put other men at risk and could cause more problems for an already vulnerable group of people.

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The Liberals revealed details of the resettlement plan Tuesday afternoon, indicating the government will not be able to meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s campaign promise of resettling 25,000 Syrians by the end of this year. Instead, the government will bring 10,000 Syrians to Canada by the end of 2015 while promising to resettle the remaining 15,000 by February — all through a mix of government and private sponsorships.

READ MORE: Canada to miss target of resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees by year’s end

The government has put the priority families and on some of the most vulnerable people, including at-risk women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) individuals.

“It’s a relief to know that’s happening,” Chris Morrissey, the founder of Rainbow Refugees in Vancouver, a group that supports and advocates for refugees people seeking refugee protection because of persecution based on sexual orientation or gender identity. “Certainly, GBT men fit into [the] category of folks who are vulnerable.”

She says Rainbow Refugees is putting together a team to work with new arrivals who may need the group’s assistance.

The opposition Conservatives are on board as well.

Michelle Rempel, the opposition critic for immigration, refugees and citizenship, said the government needs to prioritize those facing “immediate threats of genocide or some of the most persecuted individuals.

READ MORE: Unanswered questions from the Liberals’ Syrian refugee strategy

“Those in the LGBTQ community would fall into that category,” she said. “We absolutely should be looking at prioritizing those from those groups.”

But single men will not be sponsored by the Canadian government unless they are with their family or identified as gay, bisexual or transgender. Amnesty International is critical of that and says the government is “profiling” refugees.

“There are many single men apart from LGBTI individuals who may also be vulnerable and have a public profile which puts them at risk such as journalists or human rights defenders,” the human rights organization says on its website. “Profiling single men unfortunately only serves to feed into negative stereotypes which already exist, and risks stigmatizing an entire population as individuals who are to be feared or who are gay.”

Morrissey also sees a problem in the government singling out GBT men over heterosexual men, but she understands how this move came about.

“My own sort of analysis is that this is a move that the Liberal government has taken in response to the backlash that has been happening around security issues,” she says. “I think that’s problematic.”

READ MORE: Should Canada stop bringing in Syrian refugees because of the Paris attacks? Experts say no.

She explains the refugee selection process is thorough enough to determine who should be resettled and it’s the job of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees — which has registered more than 4 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey — to determine who meets the criteria for resettlement before referring them to a host country.

Morrissey is not concerned about there being men who may try to exploit the situation and pretend to be gay in order to get into the country.

“There’s not that many men who will, in fact, choose to identify as GBT in order to get through this process,” she explained.

Morrissey has been working with refugees for 15 years. In that time, she said there has only been one person who she has encountered through Rainbow Refugees whom she was concerned about not being honest about his orientation.

What needs to be ensured, she said, is the security and confidentiality of a GBT individual.

“Men who are gay keep it a secret because they don’t want to be targeted in their own countries,” she says.

With a file from The Canadian Press

© 2015 Shaw Media

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