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Meet An Iranian LGBT Refugee Affected By Executive Order On Immigration


Now let's meet a man affected by President Trump's executive order suspending admissions of refugees. He fled his home country of Iran because he's gay, and Iran has a history of executing gay people. This man was supposed to come to the United States. Instead, he's stuck in Turkey, which is where NPR's Peter Kenyon spoke with him.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: I got hold of Arash - he's afraid to give anymore of his name than that - a day after his dream of reaching America was thrown into limbo.

ARASH: (Through interpreter) When I got the call, I was stunned. My life suddenly seemed impossible. I'm completely confused. I don't know if my country of residence is changing or not. I have no idea of what's going to happen to me.

KENYON: The call from his migration agency told him he'd been tripped up at the finish line by President Trump's executive order. Arash had been forced to flee Iran after his boyfriend's father discovered their relationship, and he says if he goes back, he'll almost certainly be arrested.

His wait in Turkey as a refugee was tightly controlled by the police who just days earlier produced his exit permit so he could travel to the U.S. Monday. He's already given up everything he owned except what could fit in two suitcases.

ARASH: (Through interpreter) The place I was living in, all my furniture - that's gone. I don't have anything but these two bags. I'm almost out of money.

KENYON: Arash is one of many stranded LGBT refugees who in desperation called Arshem Parsi. He directs IRQR, the Iranian Refugee Queer Railroad. It's a Canadian-based nonprofit that helps LGBT refugees with their resettlement cases. Parsi says Canada used to be a popular destination for Iranians, but then Ottawa changed its policies to favor Syrian refugees, shoving others to the back of a long, slow-moving line. Parsi says the U.N. high commissioner for refugees started looking elsewhere.

ARSHEM PARSI: And the UNHCR encouraged LGBT refugees to go to the United States because it's going to be a shorter process.

KENYON: It could still be true if this suspension is lifted in the coming weeks or months. But Parsi says if LGBT refugees have to switch back to Canada for resettlement, they could be in for a very long wait.

PARSI: Honestly, I don't know what would happen for a lot of them. They are very, very, you know, vulnerable, and we deeply concerned about their situation.

KENYON: Another Iranian LGBT refugee and activist, Ramin Haghjoo, says he's been hearing desperate reactions among those waiting to be resettled. He repeats one comment from an LGBT refugee stuck in Turkey.

RAMIN HAGHJOO: I'm going to die here.

KENYON: Continuing in Farsi, he says anxiety and depression are common reactions. These people risked everything to escape Iran, he says, and this news is devastating to them. Haghjoo's own story shows the old system was working, at least for some. I interviewed him back in 2010 when he was waiting as a refugee in Istanbul. By the following spring, he was resettled in Washington, D.C., with a job at a foundation. Today, he says he's heartened by the protests against the order.

HAGHJOO: (Through interpreter) It's right that the president of the United States can give orders. He's the president. He says. But then I see the women's march, and I see all these protests popping up at airports. And it tells me the people of the United States aren't behind these policies.

KENYON: Haghjoo knows he's one of the lucky ones. He's been reunited with his partner, and they're making plans to get married. But for other LGBT refugees from Iran and the other countries affected by the executive order, that kind of stability and happiness feels a long way off. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.


Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.