Syria: What’s Happening and How It Affects the Country’s Gay Citizens and Refugees
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When Syrian citizens rose up against their President Bashar al-Assad during the 2011 Arab Spring protestors, he swiftly crushed them using the country’s military. His actions sparked a civil war full of kidnapping, torture and mass slaughter that has been happening ever since.
Though you can read a more in-depth explainer of the Syrian civil war, here’s our quick version: on one side are Assad, the Syrian army, Assad’s supporters, Iranian Hezbollah fighters and Russian military and on the other are anti-Assad rebel opposition fighters, an organized militia called the Free Syria Army and a Syrian franchise of al-Qaeda. In between are countless Syrian citizens — so far, more than 470,000 have died and more than four million have fled the country as refugees.
Former President Barack Obama said that U.S. military forces would intervene if Assad ever used chemical weapons against his citizens. Then on Aug. 21, 2013, Assad did, killing up to 1,423 people. The U.S. hesitated, instead accepting a deal brokered by Russia for Assad to give up his chemical weapons and submit to international inspections. But when Assad unleashed chemical weapons on his citizens a second time on Apr. 4, 2017, President Donald Trump responded by attacking the Syrian airbase that launched the chemical attack, a largely symbolic move that did not stop the airbase from operating a few days after.
While it’s unclear whether the U.S. military will intervene any further, a little over a month ago, Trump closed U.S. borders to Syrian refugees fleeing the violence in their country. So we wanted to take this moment to highlight the stories of three gay Syrian refugees — homosexuality in Syria can get you imprisoned by the government or killed by religious extremists. You can click on their names to learn more.
Because Syria is one of 80 world countries that criminalize homosexuality, Samar faced a three-year prison sentence if he ever publicly came out. He has also heard his father and his father’s friends threatening to kill gay people. Then, one day, one of Samar’s brothers outed him to his dad, so Samar packed a bag and left without saying goodbye.
He rode an inflatable dinghy to Greece and then crossed seven borders (living only on bread, water and dates) until Hungarian border guards eventually arrested and then released him. Afterwards, he dangerously stowed himself inside of a fridge and was smuggled into the U.K. where he now lives.
He now resides with a refugee host family and studies English on a five-year visa. He eventually went to a gay bar for the first time and can express his homosexuality openly in public and online, but can never return home. He’s barely 21-years-old.
In 2012, Syrian soldiers stopped Nahas’ bus, took him and other passengers to a secluded house, mocked him with anti-LGBTQ slurs and miraculously let him go. He eventually fled and worked as a translator in a Turkish town near the Syrian border, until a friend of his newly recruited by Daesh/ISIS threatened to kill him.
After countless interviews with the U.S. government, he was finally approved to immigrate to America. In December 2015, became the first openly gay civilian ever to speak before the U.N. Security Council about Syria’s atrocities.
A painter studying architecture, Maher Daoud had to leave his hometown of Latakia, Syria at age 23 before graduating. The town was oppressive — its local police worked as censors, requiring approval of any artwork before a public showing. “They were trying to judge whether I was against Bashar al-Assad,” Daoud said.
The Latakian police regularly harassed and beat gay citizens and Daoud worried that Daesh/ISIS supporters would eventually kill him if they discovered he was gay. He and his family fled to war-torn Lebanon and then to Sudan where he was almost raped by three people in a bus. His family then fled to Turkey where racists continually told him to “Fuck off” and “Go die” because of his Syrian nationality.
He has since started passing himself off as a Spanish citizen named Pedro and now works as a sex worker because Turkish employers won’t hire him.