News & Resources

Notes from the Field: January Beirut Trip 2016 (Part II)

Today, we’re excited to share the second installment of reflections from Hassan, a UC Berkeley Law student currently on the IRAP student trip in Lebanon. In this post, Hassan writes about meeting a gay IRAP client who fled ISIS. Read on below:

“It was like hell even before ISIS came…” These scathing words came from an individual describing his hometown of Mosul, which made worldwide news as a devastating military triumph for ISIS over fleeing Iraqi forces. Our group of students huddled around the meek presence of an Iraqi man in his twenties, smoking a cigarette and recalling his harrowing tale of escape from Mosul to Beirut. We’ll call him Adnan, the name used to describe him in a New York Times article from October 2015 about the frustrating process for refugees seeking resettlement in the United States. Adnan is gay and self identifies as an atheist—a stark contrast to his father, who is a sheikh and Islamic religious leader. Adnan recalled his life at a Mosul university where he studied dentistry. He was beaten over his views about religion, particularly relating to minorities. He left his studies without finishing and fled Iraq after he refused ISIS’ offer to join their ranks. According to Adnan, his joining ISIS would have benefited the group, as it would have created ties with his father, an influential figure in the community.

Adnan’s story is unique yet ordinary. Daily, Iraqis are forced out of their country and become unable to realize their dreams of finishing their education and remaining with their family. At the same time, a gay man escaping an ISIS stronghold for safer pastures while openly keeping to his secular beliefs is becoming more of an exception. Adnan now works odd jobs under the table at a fraction’s wage of what Lebanese make for the same work. He lives in shared student housing, and a generous friend paid his rent last month—a fact that Adnan admits embarrasses him.

To think that Adnan and others like him can’t even have their cases considered by the United States because of a lack of space for conducting refugee interviews at the Embassy is frustrating. Is it really because of construction? Or is it an underlying apathy on the part of the United States (not to exonerate other countries) regarding Adnan or others in his situation? The answer isn’t important. The reality is that he’s still waiting and withering when he could be advancing his life as a student, a dentist, a partner to someone. In my few days in Beirut, I’m becoming acutely aware that, while honorable and apt for appreciation, IRAP’s operations and those of other NGOs working in the Middle East on behalf of refugees remain inadequate to singlehandedly combat the mounting crisis.

A recent Washington Post article stated, “[a]ll evidence suggests that if there were educational, employment and entrepreneurial opportunities, the [MENA] region’s youth would seize them. Most want to live in a more open society with the chance to benefit from scientific advances like other young people. In a recent survey, nearly 40 percent of Middle Eastern youth said they wanted to start their own businesses.” Adnan may never see the more open and inclusive Iraqi society that would welcome his views and sexuality, but he deserves a future in a country that will facilitate his ability to reach his full potential. Currently, that future remains under construction.