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Russian LGBT community seeking asylum in increasing numbers

30 January 20150 comments

Almost a thousand Russians sought asylum in the US last year, up 34 per cent over the previous year, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

But instead of fleeing anti-opposition crackdowns by the Putin regime or violent Russian crime gangs, many of these new arrivals in the US are fleeing a worsening anti-gay climate in Russia.

According to Immigration Equality (IE) – a New York based organisation which provides legal service to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender immigrants – the number of enquiries it has received from Russians seeking asylum in the US has “gone through the roof”.

IE’s legal director Aaron Morris says most of the recent asylum enquiries have come from gay men in their 20s or  30s who have been targeted by anti-gay attacks and a handful from gay or lesbian people raising children.

To get an application approved, an asylum seeker must present a convincing case that he or she has a “well-founded fear of persecution” in their home country.

Russia’s anti-gay policies and its history of violence against its LGBT community have seen many applications for asylum succeed.

The US is among several countries favoured as havens by LGBT Russians who emigrate from there. Canada, Finland and Israel are others.

Several US cities have programs to assist gay and lesbian asylum seekers from Russia and elsewhere as they await the processing of their applications, which can take six months or more.

For the first five months, asylum seekers are banned from working paid jobs, so they struggle to support themselves despite often having professional qualifications and experience.

In Washington DC housing is one of the major challenges, according to the DC Center for the LGBT community.

“We have no trouble finding them legal representation, but trying to find someone willing to give up part of their home or money for food or transportation is not easy,” the Center’s Matthew Corso said.

Another group aiding LGBT Russian asylum-seekers in the Washington area is the Spectrum Human Rights Alliance, founded in 2011 by Russian immigrant Larry Poltavsev.

Poltavtsev, who studied chemistry at the University of North Carolina in the 1990s, is frustrated by the rules that bar asylum-seekers from working.

“It makes no sense because most of our arrivals have advanced degrees and speak good English,” he said.

“They’re capable of being productive, paying taxes, but we are not letting them do those things while they’re waiting.

In the queue of applicants for asylum are Andrew Nasonov and Igor Bazilevsky, longtime partners from the Russian city of Voronezh who wearied of threats, harassment and beatings and came to the United States in July.

They’re now assembling the paperwork for their case and getting Russian documents translated into English.

“Of course we are worried, but we hope for the best,” Mr Nasonov said.

Mr Nasonov, 25, was a journalist and human-rights activist in Russia; Mr Bazilevsky, 32, was a graphic designer. They hope to pursue those careers in the U.S. if their asylum applications are approved.

Meanwhile, they’ve been provided with lodging by a gay couple in a Washington suburb and took a step in October that would have been impossible in Russia — they got married.

“We were finally able to say that we are a real family — there are not enough words to describe how wonderful these feelings are,” Mr Nasonov wrote in an email.

“But of course, we are still faced with a lot of difficulties,” he said.

“It was hard to leave our relatives, friends, and parents behind in Russia. … We have nothing here, and in many ways are completely dependent on the assistance of the people who surround us.”

Laurie Nowell
AMES Senior Journalist