Recently, we received the following, somewhat distressing email from a young LGBT person in Armenia. Unfortunately, we’re sure that there are more people in Armenia facing similar predicaments:
“I am writing from Armenia. I am gay and in the closet. I am unhappy and depressed with my life, and would like to move to a liberal country like the U.S. or Canada. Can I apply for political asylum in the States or Canada? What would my chances be? If I do come to the U.S. with the hopes of being granted asylum, what kind of help and support could I expect from AGLA NY, if any? Thank you.”
This is the kind of letter that breaks your heart. To our friend in Armenia, we offer the following advice:
First of all, although you are in a very difficult situation, try not to get too depressed. There are other LGBT people in Armenia. Even if you plan to leave Armenia, perhaps reaching out to those people can help you feel less isolated and a bit happier, for now. Maybe we can help you make some contacts.
If you do plan on applying for political asylum, here is what we can tell you when it comes to the United States. It may or may not be easier to obtain asylum in Canada, as their policies tend to be more immigrant-friendly.
In the USA:
- You should already physically be in the United States if you are seeking asylum It would help if you brought as much documentation as possible with you (for example, police reports of attacks on you or others, or newspaper articles, etc..) in addition to the identity papers that will be required (birth certificate, passport, visa, ideally family members’ birth certificate copies, etc…)
- Essentially, you have to find an immigration lawyer to handle your case pro bono-i.e. free- or you will have to pay someone to handle your case. This can add up to a few thousand dollars, but shouldn’t cost much more. AGLA NY can help you with references or finding someone if you have no money.
- You should get written letters from people whom an asylum officer or immigration judge here would trust, corroborating your story (i.e. saying that what you say is in fact true). It’s better if the letters are written in English, or you will have to have them translated and have the translator’s information available should an officer or judge want to corroborate anything with your translator.
- Then, when your case comes up, you will probably see an asylum officer. If you are not granted asylum, you may want to appeal the decision, or if your case requires review, you may appear before an immigration judge (or, rarely, the Board of Immigration Appeals or a federal court). You should have at least one character witness who will appear in court and back your story. Living in a closed or homophobic society like Armenia, however, is usually not enough for someone to obtain asylum status. You may have to prove that your life is in danger or that you face physical harm by staying in Armenia. (I know this may sound unfair…)
- AGLA NY is happy to give you advice, refer you to a lawyer, and if we get to know you and believe that you have a sound case, to eventually write you a letter of support.
- Then when your court date comes, you, your lawyer and your witness/support person appear in court and state your case. The judge will ask you, your lawyer and your witness/support person a few questions and usually make a decision on the spot.
Whatever happens, good luck! AGLA NY is always here to help in any way we can-stay in touch and don’t despair, you have friends you don’t even know of out here!
In the meantime, if you have internet access, try the following web sites and educate yourself on the topic as much as you can:
For information on sexual orientation and immigration:
For information on general immigration and asylum:
For information specific to Armenians seeking asylum in the United States:
Disclaimer: Although we have done our best to accurately represent what we know about asylum seekers and United States procedure or law, none of the information above should be construed as representing wholly accurate or sanctioned legal advice. It is only meant as general information that will lead individuals to seek proper legal representation.