Gay Afghan Teenager Denied Asylum in Austria Because He Didn’t Fit Stereotype, Rights Group Says

By Christopher F. Schuetze and Christine Hauser

BERLIN — A gay Afghan 18-year-old who was seeking asylum in Austria because he feared persecution in his country had his application denied because the authorities said he did not act like a stereotypical gay man, citing his walk, behavior and clothing, according to a Vienna-based organization that helps refugees.

In a case that illustrates the plight of many L.G.B.T. refugees coming to Europe, the organization, Queer Base, said the teenager, whom it did not identify, provided testimony at an asylum hearing this spring that he became aware of his sexuality when he was 12 and living in Afghanistan.

He migrated to Austria as a minor, according to the organization, which kept all other details of the teenager’s life and journey confidential at his request.

But after he applied for asylum, the document outlining the decision quoted an official as saying that the man’s claim that he was gay was not believable based on how he had acted while living in Austria.

“Neither your walk, nor your behavior nor your clothing give the slightest indication that you could be gay,” says the decision, which was more than 100 pages.

“They reported that you frequently got into fights with roommates,” it said. “You clearly have the potential to be aggressive, which would not be expected in a homosexual.”

It also said that the young man was not described as having many friends while in Austria. “Don’t homosexuals tend to be rather sociable?” it said.

Human Rights Watch said in its 2017 report on Afghanistan that the country’s law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct, and the report cited harassment, violence and detention of gay people by the police. The organization’s report this year noted that same-sex relations are punishable by five to 15 years in prison under a law that bans all sex between individuals not married to each other. Advocates for L.G.B.T. people operate largely underground out of fear of persecution, the organization said.

And while laws in places like Austria are much more gay-friendly, L.G.B.T. refugees often face challenges coming out, even if it would help their cases for seeking asylum, gay-rights experts say.

On the other hand, pretending to be gay or lesbian to increase one’s odds in the asylum process is relatively rare, those experts say. It’s more common for L.G.B.T. refugees to continue to hide their sexual identities and to lie about the reasons for seeking asylum, said Patrick Dörr, who runs Queer Refugees, a German state-sponsored program for L.G.B.T. refugees coming to Germany.

“Many of them have to overcome shame and stigma,” Marty Huber, a founder of Queer Base, said in an interview on Thursday.

The teenager was interviewed for his application in late April and the decision was handed down in early May. The decision gained international attention this week when a Vienna weekly newsmagazine, Falter, published details of his case.

Nina Horaczek, who wrote the initial article, published the key excerpts from the document that described the institution’s response to the teenager’s asylum request based on his sexual orientation.

The teenager continues to live in Austria as he appeals the decision. He has declined to be interviewed, Ms. Huber said.

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Christoph Pölzl, a spokesman for the Austrian Interior Ministry, confirmed on Thursday that the decision was authentic. He said that the country’s Federal Immigration and Asylum agency had made decisions on about 120,000 asylum requests.

“In the asylum process, the asylum seeker must make his reason for flight credible,” he said. He declined to discuss the specific case of the Afghan teenager.

Migrants who flee their home countries for Europe face perilous and sometimes fatal journeys crossing by boat or over land, often at the hands of unscrupulous human traffickers.

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said this month that more than 1,500 refugees and migrants had died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in the first seven months of 2018, with 850 deaths in June and July alone.

About 60,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year, around half as many as during the same period last year, the refugee agency said. Spain has become the primary destination, with more than 23,500 people arriving by sea, compared with around 18,500 in Italy and 16,000 in Greece, the agency said.

Most of the migrants who have ended up in Austria have traveled by land through the Balkans.

Austria has recently tightened its asylum requirements. One such change gives the government control over where refugees are placed, which can mean that L.G.B.T. people find themselves in conservative states where it is harder to integrate.

In June, Navid Jafartash, a gay refugee from Iraq, said on Austrian television that he was asked during an asylum application interview to explain what the colors on the rainbow flag stood for. When Mr. Jafartash, who lived with an Austrian partner at the time, was unable to do so, his asylum application was initially denied, he said in the television interview.

Activists say that L.G.B.T. refugees are especially vulnerable because in many cases they do not want to discuss their sexuality at an official hearing. Translators often act as more of an impediment than the Austrian officials because they come from the same community as the asylum seeker.

“Many of them have to overcome shame and stigma,” said Ms. Huber, whose organization is helping more than 400 L.G.B.T. refugees in Austria.

The asylum seekers also run into trouble in the asylum centers, where they are forced to live among their peers after they have outed themselves to an immigration official.

Sometimes refugees are not aware that their sexuality could help their case for asylum, Mr. Dörr said.

As for the decision in the Afghan teenager’s case, “it’s scandalous misconduct,” he said. “It just makes you shake your head.”

Christopher F. Schuetze reported from Berlin, and Christine Hauser from New York.

Follow Christopher F. Schuetze and Christine Hauser on Twitter: @CFSchuetze and @christineNYT.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/16/world/europe/gay-afghanistan-man-asylum-austria.html?fbclid=IwAR1l34bGQQ8VmWLTEiwFn9fe_1sqmuZiKv4OU2WWFiKWOksOKRJV7bhZywM

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