Refuge from the Stones
Mohammed Syed says his sexuality puts his life in danger back home and he prays that Canada will grant him sanctuary. Trouble is, so many asylum seekers now are claiming to be gay when they�re not
Globe and Mail, December 6, 2003
By Marina Jimenez
It�s not uncommon in Pakistan to see grown men strolling through the streets and markets hand in hand. This is a gesture of affection, not romance: These men live in a conservative Islamic society where homosexuality is not only taboo but illegal, and sodomy punishable by flogging. In some madrassas, the nation�s all-male religious schools, boys are made to sleep with the lights on to guard against �particular friendships.�
So, when word of Mohammed Syed�s adolescent gay love affair spread through his neighbourhood in Rawalpindi, a bustling city of two million next door to Islamabad, the capital, he feared for his safety.
He began to receive threatening phone calls, he says, and one day, on his way home from school, he was attacked by three members of the fundamentalist political party Jamat-I-Islamia. Before beating him, Mr. Syed recalls, �They yelled �gandoo�, which is like �fag� in Urdu.�
Now 27, he is a business student in Toronto, and recently applied to stay in Canada as a refugee, claiming that forcing him to go home is a guarantee of persecution.
This makes Mr. Syed a bit of a trendsetter. In the past 18 months, nearly 8,000 Pakistanis have sought asylum here; their homeland is Canada�s leading source of refugee claimants. Although most complain of religious persecution, suddenly a growing number of them declare that they need protection because they are gay.
In fact, there is a rapidly rising number of self-professed gay refugees from such unlikely places as Costa Rica, not exactly a nation associated with repression.
Canada is renowned for its sexual tolerance, but many of the same-sex newcomers have run into a problem: The authorities suspect that many of them simply aren�t what they claim to be.
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