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This article was published 22/2/2017 (1740 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A 23-year-old man from Fort Rouge is making a desperate plea for help to stay in Canada.
Samer Habib is a gay Egyptian national who has been living and working in Winnipeg for five years. The aspiring entrepreneur and University of Winnipeg graduate plans to make a risky asylum claim after learning his Canadian immigration papers will not be processed before his Egyptian passport expires.
According to Habib, all Egyptian men are required to serve in the military unless exempt under certain circumstances, and the Egyptian government will not renew his passport until military service is fulfilled.
If he returns to Egypt, Habib fears he will be persecuted for his sexual orientation and abused in the military. Habib’s passport will expire in June and without a valid travel document, he will have to return to Egypt.
"People have been driven into hiding because of their sexuality," Habib said, describing homophobia in Egypt. "You don’t hear too much about it because people are scared to speak up because of what could happen to them."
According to the Canadian government, Egypt doesn’t legally prohibit sexual acts between individuals of the same sex but homosexuality is not socially tolerated and members of the LGBT community could be arrested on other charges, such as committing indecency or debauchery.
Last August, Habib applied to become a permanent resident through Manitoba’s provincial nominee program (PNP) but only heard back in January that his nomination had been approved. Federal immigration officials have told Habib that it could be another 16 months before his Canadian residency papers are processed.
"I want to feel safe and have a place to call home, because right now, I feel like I might not," he said.
Because Habib works full time for the University of Winnipeg as a campus living assistant, he was denied support by Legal Aid Manitoba to make an asylum claim.
The agency, which is funded by the province of Manitoba, the federal government, and the Manitoba Law Foundation, rejected the application based on Habib’s income and said they did not believe his case would be successful.
"I have a decent job, yes, but I don’t have a very good job that allows me to pay for these extra things, like a lawyer," Habib said. "I find that shocking because I’m supposed to be fighting for my life in front of a judge to convince them that I have a case, not fighting for legal aid."
Habib has launched a GoFundMe campaign to help cover legal costs — around $3,500 — to help him navigate the immigration system and possibly make an asylum claim.
Resources provided by other agencies that support immigrants and refugees in making claims are stretched thin due to an influx of asylum seekers from the U.S. Habib has applied for help from Welcome Place but is unsure whether he’ll be approved.
So far, the GoFundMe campaign has pulled in $2,480 of its $3,000 goal.
Alastair Clarke, a local immigration lawyer, said it’s only under extreme circumstances that a client might move from a PNP application in favour of asylum.
"When they do file a refugee claim, they sign a conditional removal order (an agreement that a claimant will leave Canada if unsuccessful).
"So if they’re a failed refugee claimant it’s very difficult to apply under the (provincial nominee program)," Clarke said.
Time is also a factor when immigration officials are considering an asylum claim, Clarke explained. Claims that aren’t made within six months of arriving to Canada can be denied solely based on the delay.
"There are certainly some circumstances that are exceptional — but this is a tricky situation," he said.
Habib said making the asylum claim is his last resort and asking the public for help has already had implications in Egypt.
Since he has come out publicly, Habib said his family has cut their ties to him and he won’t be able to visit them.
"I have no choice," Habib said. "In one way I feel like I’ve already lost them because they don’t support me and love me for who I am."
Habib’s GoFundMe page is available at www.gofundme.com/please-help-me-avoid-deportation
Any funds not used by Habib will be donated to the Rainbow Resource Centre.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.