This is the fourth in a series of personal accounts written by Bader, an LGBT refugee and former IRAP client.
Fleeing danger and unhappiness in his home country, Bader escaped to Lebanon, where he got in touch with IRAP. After a two-year process, Bader was finally resettled to Canada last month with IRAP’s assistance. This is his account of his journey to a safe environment and a new home.
For reasons of security and privacy we are not using his real name.
Last Day in Beirut
On my last day in Beirut, I went on a little walk after I had packed all my bags in the morning. I sat on the popular Hamra Street for the last time. Some friends I ran into there were surprised to see me because they thought I would be very busy on my last day.
I also ran into a girl who I was hoping not to see. She started the conversation with her usual advice about why I shouldn’t transition and why I should try to find a male partner. She said that God made us perfect, so why do surgeries and such things? She said she used to be like me and she only says those things because she cares. This girl is a lesbian girl who I met through an LGBT organization. It’s really hard when people who don’t accept themselves try to push others to chase what society told them is normal. I hope one day she realizes that normal is only what people put in her head.
I spent the evening with my close friends and we had pizza. I slept until it was time to leave, and then my friends gave me a ride to the airport.
From Beirut to London
The IOM employee was on time. He gave me a plastic bag that had all the documents that I needed. It contained the travel document that can only be used for one time, the medical test results, the loan amount of the ticket and medical test, which I will have to pay back, and the plane ticket. I was nervous about going through the police controls at the airport, but the IOM employee accompanied me until I got on the plane. The flight to London was five hours. A girl, who was quiet, was in the window seat and an empty seat was between us that I tried to use for sleeping, but it didn’t work out, so I decided to watch a movie. I found an animated movie called Up. They gave us one meal; then we arrived.
From London to Montreal
As soon as I got off the plane, I was approached by someone. He identified me by the IOM bag I was holding. I was told to keep holding that bag in a visible way, so that all IOM employees would be able to identify me. I started sensing that some people were rude because they knew that I was a refugee from that bag I was holding the whole time. I guess not everyone is welcoming refugees. The guy told me to wait for another IOM employee who would show me where to go. I felt hungry.
I waited for a while, but when I checked my ticket I thought that I would be late. I didn’t know how to get in touch with the IOM employees and I thought they had forgotten me and didn’t want to miss the flight. So I started looking for an information desk. There was no gate number on my ticket, so the information desk employee told me which gate my flight was leaving from. I walked there and minutes later the IOM employee showed up and said he had been looking for me. He helped me pass the entrance and then I got on the plane.
It was a 6:30 hour flight. Again, I got the aisle seat and tried to use the empty middle seat for sleeping, but failed. I continued watching Up on this flight, because I fell asleep the first time. They gave us a really delicious meal. The crew was incredible; the nicest crew I had ever met. They were so kind and caring and gave attention to everyone’s needs and requests. I asked one of them if I could sit in a window seat, so she said she will see if that’s possible after the plane has taken off. She even made the effort to tell me about how to choose the seat that I want when I make a reservation on the website. I explained to her that I couldn’t choose my seat because I was traveling through a program. The plane took off and I thought she had forgotten and fell asleep. Suddenly, she came back and told me that all window seats were taken, but I was so amazed that she could remember me among all these people in such a huge plane. That was very kind of her to come tell me that there was no seat, so I wouldn’t feel like she forgot.
Arrival in Montreal
An IOM employee took me to where all the other refugees gathered. A lady who seemed to be with the Canadian Government took us to the immigration office room, where more refugees were waiting to finish the procedures. There were many tired people and some had their kids with them. The Canadian woman didn’t smile at us and what she said sounded like orders. I don’t think being rude should be part of anyone’s job. It would be nice to give a little smile to all the people who are tired from the long journey and have finally made it.
At immigration, they called people’s names out loud one by one. I tried to tell the employee to call me by my preferred name, but she said they will only call me by the legal name. I had been able to get my flight changed for that very reason, but it seems that all over the world, the police are strict. I decided I would just have to handle the stares and being exposed. I was too tired to try to contest it at that moment. But I was thankful for all of IOM’s efforts to get me safely through the whole day.
Finally, it was my turn and an immigration officer, who was so smiley and kind, completed my papers. The officer applied for the residency card and health card for me. They do these things at the airport, and then they send it by mail. The officer was so kind to even call my friends who are sponsoring me to ask for information that I didn’t know.
When I finally came outside, I found five smiley people, my sponsors, waving at me. One of them was wearing a very unique, gender nonconforming outfit that I was amazed to see. I guess it was a bit of a shock for the other newcomers who were walking out at the same time and who had never seen this look before, because it’s not allowed in the place they came from. Me and my friends in Beirut couldn’t even hang out together without drawing attention to ourselves, and in Canada someone with a unique style can show up at the airport and be themselves in front of everyone without fear. That gave me crazy amazing energy. I was so happy to see everyone that I had been chatting with for so long, but never met in person. One of them was so kind to give me a welcome gift with warm things for winter, and I was so happy that I forgot to give everyone their gift bracelets that one of my friends had handmade. I still could not believe that I was there.
I still can’t believe I am here, at this very moment, while I am writing this post!!!
We got to the house. I wrote some of my friends’ names in the snow and sent them the pictures, and then I went inside. The house looked so cartoonish. They showed me my room that was so beautiful. There was a rainbow flag and a gift with my name and a heart on the table in my room. The paper with a heart contained money for me, in case I needed to get something. We ate a snack and then went to bed. I slept so deeply and woke up early.
First Day in Montreal
I looked at the snow from the window and it looked so beautiful. Even though I didn’t go out, it was the first time in a very long time that I felt I could go out without fear. I felt that I am finally free and safe and that I could achieve anything.