Canada recently announced plans to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees as soon as possible. However, not all refugees will be considered. Adult males without families will be excluded. Canada has added a stipulation permitting single male refugees to enter Canada if they are gay. Gay men and all other sexual and gender minorities face a significant degree of danger throughout much of the Middle East, so to prioritize them makes sense. However, far from being a kind and humanitarian gesture from this western democracy, the plan is actually endangering gay refugees and submitting their sexual identities to the whims of a ruling council. Those carrying out the business of approving refugees are very aware of both.
In a piece published by the National Post, those tasked with sorting out applications have said they do not fear many false claims. But even making the claim is a dangerous act — to apply for refugee status as a homosexual may be to sign your own death warrant. Existing in “crowded, gossip-heavy refugee camps,” gay male refugees risk being exposed to the abuse and violence traditionally practiced on them by their fellow countrymen.
In order to be acknowledged as a gay male by these governing officials you must meet the standards of a 17-page document issued by the United Nations issued in 2012. A refugee must divulge to his interrogator information like: When he first knew he was gay, his attempts to remain hidden, and the abuse he suffered as a result. The first problem with this is that forcing someone who may well be traumatized to relive their tortured past is cruel. There is profound shame and emotional scarring among some oppressed sexual minorities.
However, an even more pernicious and subtle problem underlies this system of sexual governance. Not only is it cruel and inhumane, it also regulates what counts as a homosexual experience. We see in the standards of these documents an attachment of victimization to one’s sexual identity. To not bear the scars of oppression is to be excluded from being gay. This is not exactly a new story. To be found outside the bounds of traditional sexual and gender roles has always been seen as a sign of weakness, of vulnerability. We see here this socially imposed characterization being implemented into official state regulation of homosexual status.
Canada now appears to be the progressive savior of a ruthlessly oppressed people. This is the spirit of humanitarianism distilled. It preaches a message of universalism and neutrality, yet it is anything but. Governing bodies with the authority to set the rules of the game, to monitor, to inspect, scrutinize, and process “hardship” claims always defeat their own purpose. They end up imposing additional hardships. Western democracy always rides in on a white horse preaching equality, so long as you behave. The result is a reinforcement of old prejudices into today’s humanitarian instruction manuals.
The Canadian government’s purported act of benevolence is a brutal demonstration of western state power. The doors of Canada and other western nations are flying open, but only for a time, only for a small minority, and only if they respond in a satisfactory manner. It is time to end this legacy of humanitarian imperialism which has pushed Syria into its present crisis to begin with. The only way to stop acting as the gatekeepers to peace and democracy is to tear down the gates, set fire to the regulatory books, and begin accepting a world where we assume the right of all to travel as they please. Those who do not conform to traditional standards of sexuality in the Mideast do face great peril, but let us not hold them to our own standards before we allow them passage into our communities. All are deserving of the power to explore and settle where they please. Dismantle the bureaucracy that prevents them from doing so or spare us from listening to western governments toss around hollow claims of humanitarianism.