For homosexuals living in the Middle East and North Africa, life can be a struggle even at the best of times. As the cultures in these regions generally frown upon homosexuality, deeming it unnatural and immoral, many people need to hide their sexuality from friends and family lest they are found out.
One Afghan asylum seeker was shocked after being rejected by Austrian immigration authorities because he didn’t “act” or “dress” like a homosexual. He also wasn’t “social enough,” they claimed.
In Afghanistan, it’s not illegal to be homosexual, per say. But it is highly frowned upon, and dangerous in most cases. What makes matters even worse is that those who get caught engaging in homosexual activities are sometimes arrested, with the maximum sentence of such behavior being death.
Because of this, homosexual men who have come out, and also those who have not, live in constant fear for their lives. As well as seeking financial gain by moving to Europe, homosexuals and those who are part of the LBGTQ community want to move to Europe or America so they can practice their sexuality freely and without threat.
Life Under Threat
The young man, who hasn’t been named by sources, initially arrived at the SOS Children Village refugee camp in Austria back in 2016. At first, he claimed asylum for the fact that he was from the Hazara minority in Afghanistan; a minority under constant threat of violence. However, he changed his asylum claim soon after, basing it on his sexual orientation.
Afraid to Come Out
According to officials, the reason for the man’s change of heart when it came to seeking asylum was because he was afraid to come out. Having thus far lived a life of fear, the man wasn’t sure how well his homosexuality would be accepted in Austria, even though it’s a country within Europe. But it’s the immigration authorities’ take on things that was surprising.
Walk the Walk
The young asylum seeker was stunned when he received the news that his application had been rejected. The reason is that he simply didn’t look, walk or act homosexual. According to the Deutsche Welle (DW) news outlet, an official wrote to the man: “The way you walk, act and dress does not show even in the slightest that you could be homosexual.” As such, the authorities claimed he had no reason to fear for his safety back home.
Another issue which further hindered the process was the fact that this young man had a history of violence. The immigration official took issue with the fact that he had been involved in some physical fights at the asylum center where he was staying. They felt he had the “potential for aggression” that “wouldn’t be expected from a homosexual.”
Be More Social
The next line on the official’s report was even more shocking and made many people ask what was really going on. The official noted that the man had few friends and preferred to hang out in small groups of people. “Aren’t homosexuals rather social?” the report said. This sent many people into a meltdown about what they thought was a clear case of discrimination and stereotyping.
Kissed a Man
For whatever reasons, Austrian authorities took serious issue with the asylum seeker, doubling down in their questioning of him. When he claimed he had kissed a man before, the case officer doubted him. The officer’s take was that if this were true, he would have been arrested. But more tough questions lay ahead.
The official continued to quiz the man on his sexuality, asking questions most people would find offensive and rude. When he was asked when he realized he was gay, the man said it was when he was just 12 years old. The official also doubted that, claiming it was unlikely but for the most curious of reasons. It all had to with stimulation levels.
Lack of Stimulation
The case officer’s claims were now going from the sublime to the ridiculous as the weird questions persisted. The official took issue with that claim, writing that Afghan society is one “where there is no public sexual stimulation through fashion and advertisement,” according to DW. The case was so controversial it even made it to the highest echelons of the Austrian government.
The whole case has been an awkward one for everyone involved. Even Austria’s Interior Minister became involved although he refused to comment on the case when approached to do so by reporters. The minister simply noted that this case was “not reflective of the [wider] reality.” However, gay rights groups are up in arms about this asylum case.
Rules of Proof
The ministry added in their statement, also printed on the DW site: “Asylum-seekers must substantiate their reasons for fleeing. There are no concrete rules of proof, but the authorities must show if and why a claim was found to have been substantiated.”
In another example of asylum being denied, we take a look at Hungary. Recently, a Nigerian man who sought asylum there was asked to undergo a psychological test to prove he was homosexual. At the time, the European Court of Justice brought down a ruling that the test amounted to “disproportionate interference in the private life of the asylum-seeker.”
One teenager from Kabul made news headlines recently too when he explained that he lives with a dangerous secret which could potentially threaten his life. He explained how negative the view on homosexuality is in Afghanistan, noting that many people believe that homosexuals should be put to death.
Like a Disease
Ahmad, who has to hide his true identity for fear of being outed, spoke to reporters about his predicament. “Homosexuality is seen as a disease in Afghanistan,” he said, according to the RadioFreeEurope website. “It is seen as a sin in Islam, and many people think homosexuals should be executed.” But Ahmad knew he was homosexual from a young age.
Attracted to Men
Ahmed explained in a phone interview with the website: “I realized I was gay when I was around 15 years old. … All my friends were talking about girls, but I realized I was not interested in girls. Slowly I began to realize that I was only attracted to men. It was scary because I felt like an alien and I couldn’t even talk to anyone about it.”
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
HRW noted that while no one has been killed in Afghanistan since 2001 for being gay, they live with that threat permanently. A report they compiled back in February said that homosexual men in the country “risk arrest, prosecution, and violence from their families, the larger community, and the government.”
HRW takes special issue with countries like Afghanistan as people there essentially have no protection under the law at all if they’re gay. “Afghan law provides no protection against discrimination or harassment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” the report added.
As Ahmad explained to RadioFreeEurope: “If my family found out, I would be kicked out from home and disowned. … That’s the best-case scenario. The worst case would be my family would kill me so they can restore their honor and get rid of the shame that I brought them.”
Hope for the Future
As views in the West regarding homosexuality become more liberal, many hope that this will have an effect further afield. If only countries like Afghanistan allowed people to be open about their sexuality, no matter what it is, they wouldn’t need to fear being disowned by their friends and family, while living in constant fear for their lives.