Our 27-year-old interviewee, who wanted to remain anonymous, left Bosnia and Herzegovina more than half a year ago. As an LGBTI person, in his country he did not get support in the environment he lived in and fear, insecurity and anxiety became an integral part of his life. Reading about countries where LGBTI rights are most complied with, he decided that his new place of residence will be Canada.
To start with, can you briefly tell us your story about discovering your sexual identity – can you introduce yourself and describe how your process of coming out went on and what were the fundamental impressions of you growing up – within your family, among your friends, at school?
The discovering of my sexual identity started pretty early, around the fifth grade of elementary school, when I started to feel attracted to boys. At the same time my friends started to feel attracted to girls. However, at the same time I also felt fear due to the fact that I grew up in a religious environment that considers same-sex relationships as unnatural, devious, deviant, and the like. Growing up in a Muslim family that has a long tradition of residing within religious institutions, I knew that homosexuality is a sin. Something that is against the principles of God/Allah. At least that's what I thought at that point. During elementary and high school I was a very withdrawn boy and experienced a lot of bullying and harassment from my classmates. It came in the form of physical bullying, humiliation, or through the use of some offensive nicknames like “faggot”, “girly” and the like. All this happened although none of them knew I am homosexual.
My first encounter with a person sharing the same tendencies toward the same sex happened when I was in third year of college, through a social network for gay, bisexual and transgender people. After texting for a while, I somehow gathered the courage to meet him in person. I was afraid because I was wondering if anyone would see us, somehow know that we are homosexuals, and then beat us up. However, nothing happened and after that I was getting more and more relaxed as I was meeting new guys. My first outing was to my fondest colleague, in February 2016. It took place in one of the classrooms at our college. I was terrified, my heart wanted to jump out of my chest, but after half an hour of gathering strength I told her: “I have something important to tell you.” She looked at me with concern and asked if everything was okay, whether something bad had happened and the like. And I told her I was gay. She looked at me in shock and asked whether I was sure and when I became aware of it. That day we spent a lot of time talking about LGBTI people and everything they are struggling with while growing up. After three months, I decided to tell my best friend, who just looked at me, with a smile and a cigarette in his mouth, and said: “Well alright, and so what”. Coming out to my family was much harder for me than coming out to friends. Although today my brother and sisters accept me as I am, they still have some misunderstanding and resistance. My youngest sister contacted a fortune-teller, to ask if I could be changed or cured. However, all their fear comes from the environment, which, if it found out about my sexual orientation, would reject and humiliate my parents.
When did you decide to leave your country? Can you remember the exact moment, and whether your gender identity influenced this decision and in what way?
There are many reasons that influenced my decision to leave the country. First and foremost, there is the constant feeling of insecurity, fear, moments of anxiety. But, of course, there are also questions of perspective. Simply, life in Bosnia and Herzegovina had become impossible. The salary I was receiving was enough only for surviving. Also, there are political skirmishes that grow year after year and cover up all the problems that Bosnia and Herzegovina faces. My definitive decision to leave Bosnia and Herzegovina was in January 2018 when an acquaintance, who I thought was a very good person who meant no harm to anyone, without a second thought while talking about LGBTI people said that they all should be killed. At that moment I was in shock, but my friend reacted quickly and said we have to go. That moment made me start working on a definite departure.
Describe to us briefly the process of collecting the necessary documentation for going, living and working abroad. Why did you choose Canada?
Prior to the process of collecting the necessary documentation, I made the decision to seek asylum in another country. By researching on the internet about countries that guarantee basic human rights to LGBTI people, I realized that Canada was definitely number one and far from our Balkan mentality, which is, as they say, “every pot's lid”. They are always right and all their opinions are valid as professional opinions, also when it concerns LGBTI people. I went to the Sarajevo Open Center for help and they explained to me the whole process, from collecting documentation for departure to the very process of applying for asylum. The hardest step was getting a visa. Given that Bosnia and Herzegovina is not an EU member, a visa is needed for entering Canada. I was very afraid of being rejected and I spent a lot of time reading the comments of people who were rejected. However, in the end I realized that it is most important to provide the Embassy with all the required documentation and there will probably be no problems. I got a tourist visa for 10 years and after I arrived in Canada as a tourist, I filed an asylum application based on sexual orientation. I am currently in the process of obtaining asylum, i.e. waiting for a hearing that every asylum seeker in Canada needs to pass. This used to be a shorter period of time of about two months; however, as the inflow of new refugees has increased considerably and due to the shortage of staff who performs hearings, that period prolonged to one to two years. I'm currently in the sixth month of waiting. Once a refugee receives a hearing date, the previously collected documentation (arranged with a lawyer that each refugee gets assigned free of charge) must be submitted to the Refugee and Immigration Committee in Canada – the Refugee Protection Department, which will review it and then during the hearing clarify unclear questions. Their task is to establish the credibility and truthfulness of the story that the refugees had previously delivered. However, all refugees who are awaiting a hearing have the right to work, education – if they want to study at a university or college, they have to pay as international students, health care, until they find a job they are eligible for social assistance that is more or less sufficient for monthly living costs. Also, there are many organizations that help refugees if they need help with accommodation, clothing, food, free English or French language lessons and so on. The limitations are minimal and they cease after a successful hearing, i.e. obtaining a permanent resident status. The only bigger limitation is the one about leaving Canada during the entire process. It is especially forbidden to return to the country where you came from. Collecting documentation/evidence for the hearing is much more complex than the collecting of visa documentation and the amount of documents depends on a case-by-case basis. I advise all those who want to apply for asylum in a safe country to bring with them documents such as a birth certificate, citizenship certificate, identity card, diploma, and so on.
What were your thoughts during the preparation process for going to Canada?
During those few months, from the personal decision until the very departure, a lot spun around my head. What am I to do if they refuse my visa or asylum? How am I supposed to spend the rest of my life in Bosnia and Herzegovina hiding my sexual orientation? It was a very stressful period for me and I turned to SOC for psychological counseling and they directed me to the Foundation Wings of Hope. Talking with the psychologist somewhat reduced my fears and anxiety.
When you arrived in Canada, how did you feel at first? Do you recall any particularly unpleasant experiences?
I arrived in Canada in mid-2018, alone, with a backpack and a suitcase full of summer clothes, some of my favorite books and special gifts from friends. On the one hand I was very happy. I'm finally in a country where I can be myself. But on the other hand I was also very sad. In Bosnia and Herzegovina I left my mother and father, who sacrificed so much for me, to provide education for me, but I also did it for their own good. I will always remember my mother's empty and shaken look as I was leaving my home. Later I was told that she cried a lot that day. I also left my best friends, who were my constant support in everything. Sarajevo, where I experienced some of the most beautiful moments in my life.
How do you feel now and is there something you would have done differently in the whole process of moving away from Bosnia and Herzegovina?
At this point I am much happier than I was in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I feel safe and fearless. Canada is a country that protects its citizens and provides even refugees from all over the world with the utmost help with settling down and incorporating into the Canadian system, which can differ more or less from everything we learned in the countries we came from. However, there are many organizations that are here to assist throughout this process. I was very surprised to see rainbow flags at every turn, with which various bars, institutions and the like want to show that LGBTI people are welcome. If I could go back in time, I would have done this much sooner.
What are the basic differences between living in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Canada?
I can give a very extensive answer to this question, but I will try to list some important things that mean a lot to me. Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country where human rights are at a very low level. Beside LGBTI people, who I think are the most vulnerable group, constant discrimination is also experienced by the Roma, refugees, people with disabilities, and even women. In Canada human rights come first and I can say that their entire system is based on human rights. At every step you can find establishments that provide assistance to all these vulnerable groups, as well as to all the refugees who came here because of the horrors they were threatened by in their countries. Unlike Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is vacated by more and more people each year, more and more people come to live in Canada. That's why it is also called the immigrant country. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, young people do not have any perspective. No matter how hard you try, the results are worse or equal; however in Canada the rule is – the more you work – the more you get. In Bosnia and Herzegovina the life of LGBTI people is reduced to hiding, daily fear, humiliation by others, while in Canada LGBTI people almost never have these problems. LGBTI people have all the rights as straight couples (marriage, sex change, protection from discrimination, adoption of children, service in the army without discrimination). In Bosnia and Herzegovina national and religious diversity is considered a problem, while in Canada that same diversity is regarded as wealth. People learn about other nations, their culture, and similar things without any prejudice.
Would you like to return to Bosnia and Herzegovina and what should change in our country in order for that to happen?
I do not think about returning to Bosnia and Herzegovina and I would not want to go back. It will take a long, long time for Bosnia and Herzegovina to emerge from its nationalistic cattle pens, then to become economically strong and only then will they maybe start to think about improving human rights, especially for LGBTI people. Bosnia and Herzegovina has become a place for slander and gossip, where people enjoy hearsay stories. They enjoy being malevolent to others, tell others what they should do and how they should do it, although they are not capable of doing the same themselves. For the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the rights of LGBTI people are something that is not a priority, as if we will live forever so we have time to wait.
What is your message to young LGBTI people from Bosnia and Herzegovina who think about leaving the country?
For young LGBTI people I wish primarily to be strong enough to handle all the problems they face every day in the Bosnian society. No one is worth their health and their tears. They should not allow these programmed minds and hearts to humiliate them, tell them what to think and how to feel. They are what they are and should not try to change, because that is not possible. If they want happiness, they should go find it somewhere else, because in Bosnia and Herzegovina it is not possible at this point. There are countries where they can be happy and protected, where they can enjoy being with their partner and think about their career. A person cannot choose where he or she will be born, but can look for happiness and security in a better place. They do not have to give up on their freedom, because only they have the power to change their life, make it free and beautiful, and fill it with love. They need to fight for that happiness, for a worthy life, which will make their future safe.
This article was made in cooperation with partners from the organization Schüler Helfen Leben from Berlin.