Fleeing LGBTQ2S+ persecution, refugee claimant starts a new life with help from Legal Aid Alberta

Communications and Public Relations
June 30, 2021

Western countries have made a great deal of progress providing equal rights to people identifying as LGBTQ2S+ but in many parts of the world the reverse is true.

Diane fled her home country in east Africa, where same-sex relations are punishable by up to life in prison. But the trauma she endured in her homeland because of her sexual orientation, and threats on her life that continued after she arrived in Canada, diminished her ability to effectively file for refugee status. She was caught in the grip of post-traumatic stress.

“I was scared – very scared, because what I was doing was completely illegal where I come from. I didn’t know if the governments would communicate and if I could be deported,” she said.

“Juliette played a big role, building my capacity to take ownership of the process, to take control and change my life.”

Diane turned to Legal Aid Alberta and is now building a new life in Canada.

She says LAA immigration law specialist Juliette Ukpabi’s legal knowledge and care made all the difference.

“Juliette played a big role, building my capacity to take ownership of the process, to take control and change my life,” she said.

To say Diane’s journey to Canada was harrowing would be an understatement.

In her home country, having same-sex relationships is dangerous. Anyone even suspected of being anything other than heterosexual is at risk of being jailed. This, on top of the trauma she’d endured, added to the challenge of gathering evidence for her refugee claim. She needed documentation from hospitals, police, and former partners indicating that she had been physically abused by her husband.

“The police will capture you and torture you.”

“I needed to collect evidence and people there are not co-operative. They don’t want to get involved. Sometimes people feel it is a trap, especially dealing with LGBTQ issues. In our country, it is an abomination.”

The government has even set up a special line for people to call if they suspect someone is LGBTQ, she says.

“The police will capture you and torture you.”

And if it isn’t the police, it could be your spouse. Trapped in an arranged marriage, Diane struggled to survive.

After a former girlfriend of hers fled to the U.S., Diane began making plans of her own – taking charge of her life and changing it. She had worked and was saving money to attend university but knew that would only happen if she left the country. She used her savings to fly to Canada.

Within days, her husband discovered her whereabouts, contacted her, and again threatened her life.

If arriving in a new country and making a refugee claim wasn’t already hard enough, the COVID-19 pandemic complicated matters further. Hearings were delayed. Tasks like accessing a computer or a printer became challenges when libraries were closed. Job and volunteer opportunities dried up.

“I wish to touch someone’s life the way someone has touched mine.”

Today, Diane is continuing to build a new life. She is volunteering with an organization that supports women in crisis and wants to find ways to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Her refugee claim has been approved and she’s now exploring her options. Law school is a possibility.

“I’m applying for administrative positions in law firms to familiarize with laws and procedures,” she says. Adding that she has been inspired by Ukpabi, her LAA lawyer.

“I wish to touch someone’s life the way someone has touched mine.”

(In order to protect our client’s identity, LAA has changed and omitted some facts of her story.)