‘We are seen as the cancer of society’: LGBT people are trying desperately to flee Afghanistan

A composite image showing a protester saying'We stand with LGBTQs in Afghanistan', with a Pride flag superimposed and a Taliban fighter to the left.

Many LGBTQ+ people are scared in Afghanistan and desperate to reach a country where they can be themselves (Picture: Getty)

Taliban men carry a man in the air between them, with one carrying each leg and the other his arms. As a crowd stands around, he is beaten on the back and legs with a stick by black-clad figures.

Footage of the incident shown on TV includes the ticker: “He was a gay boy from Kabul”.

Meran Ahmad sent me this clip with the simple caption: “This is how the Taliban treat LGBT people”.

He is one of around a thousand people who have been identified as being at particular risk in Afghanistan because of their sexuality or gender identity. They are desperate to flee to a country where they can live without hiding and where they are not afraid of being executed for who they are.

After the Taliban took control of the country last summer, bisexual Meran fled to relatives in Kabul because his family said it was not safe for him to stay in his village.

Last year, in an interview with German newspaper Bild, a Taliban judge said there should only be two punishments for being gay: being stoned or crushed under a wall.

The threat is ever-present for Meran, who says it’s too dangerous for him to have a same-sex relationship he’d like to have. “If they find out, they’re going to kill me and the other guy too,” he told Metro.co.uk.

Taliban fighters patrol a market in Kabul's old town in September last year

Taliban fighters patrol a market in Kabul’s old town in September last year (Image: AP)

“I have so much depression and anxiety and I’m scared,” he said. “I lose myself, I lose my soul, wondering what to do – how can I seek help?”

He studied business administration, speaks good English and before the Taliban took over he worked for a company that supports the USA with a good salary. But now he doesn’t have a job because he says that anyone who doesn’t conform to Islamist ideology or looks different is struggling to find work.

“If I don’t leave this place, they will kill me in my lifetime. I know that,’ he said.

Merano, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, like that of all those still living in Afghanistan quoted in this article, would like to move to any country where he can live freely, such as the UK, America, Canada or Australia – ‘somewhere I can raise my voice’.

“I’m just fed up with this country because nobody respects us. An LGBT person is like a cancer in this society. I want to be proud of my identity – but now I’m scared, I’m hiding everything.”

He said he would like others in the global LGBTQ+ community to speak out in solidarity and provide more support for the evacuation of those most at risk.

One man who works tirelessly to help people like Merano is Nemat Sedat, a gay Afghan now based in California who founded the non-profit Roshaniya. He has compiled the list of people who need to be evacuated and is trying to help those identified to get to safety.

So far, he says, the number of LGBTQ+ Afghans resettled from Britain is in the low 1960s – but he believes his entire list could be picked up by just one country, although he has reached out to governments across Europe and North America.

It is staggering to see how many countries have welcomed Ukrainian refugees and set up special programs to help them settle, while the Afghans he is trying to help are often rejected.

“The world basically doesn’t care about LGBT people in Afghanistan,” he said.

People walk down a street in Kabul

The Taliban took power in Afghanistan last August (Image: Getty)

He doesn’t want the world to close its door on Ukrainians, he wants the same help to go to Afghans – especially since the US and Britain bear responsibility for their roles in the country over the past 20 years.

“People are losing hope, but there’s really no way out,” he said. What he wants to see is a way to help LGBTQ+ Afghans find refuge, because even if they manage to get a passport and visa at great expense, people would often return to Afghanistan from neighboring countries, because they are running out of resources.

Another person desperate to leave Afghanistan is Anoush, a transgender woman living in Balkh province.

She said she’s always felt different since she was a child, preferring to play with girls and stay at home and help her mother cook. Others at school mocked her, calling her “Izak,” which she explained is a slang word meaning neither male nor female.

Life was difficult because she was different, and it didn’t get any better once she began exploring her sexuality as a teenager.

Anoush, 22, said she suffered repeated sexual violence, including after once meeting a boy and finding out he actually had three friends at home. She told how she was “raped, humiliated and beaten with severe physical violence” before being dumped at the roadside where she spent the night with animals before returning home injured after being criticized by family where she was had been.

But things have gotten worse since the Taliban came to power and imposed their rigid Islam on the country.

She told how the Taliban once stopped her outside and demanded to check her phone and got so angry at finding western music and videos that they smashed her phone.

Taliban patrol Kabul

A Taliban patrol in Kabul (Image: Jamie Wiseman/The Daily Mail)

“I’m home like a prisoner,” Anoush said. “I can’t go out because I’m afraid the Taliban will kill me because I’m transgender.”

She also shared that she is unable to work due to non-conformity and is under pressure to marry a woman. “My family offends me,” she added. “They say, ‘Why are you like this? Why aren’t you like a real man?”

Anoush, a practicing Muslim, wanted to go to the mosque and pray during Ramadan, but was told not to enter because “this is a real place for pure Muslims.”

She has made several suicide attempts and believes there is no hope for her in Afghanistan.

But she has nonetheless joined forces with other young Afghans to found the Behesht Collective, a group that aims to support other LGBTQ+ people who are being persecuted, both with practical support and by countering religious extremism and intolerance .

Halim, a lawyer who is still in Afghanistan, explains that before the Taliban took over, many LGBTQ+ people who wanted to leave the country made a living selling sex or dancing at weddings.

But now “almost all of their clients are in hiding or unwilling to have sex for fear of punishment from the Taliban”.

They added: “Employment opportunities are very limited, even for the general population. People who have jobs will not give them to LGBTQs because of stigma and discrimination in Afghan society.’

Demonstrators stand in solidarity at a demonstration in 2021

Demonstrators show solidarity at a demonstration in 2021 (Image: SOPA)

Since the Taliban took control of Kabul, her office has been raided four times, as has her house – but they have so far evaded punishment after destroying any data related to support for people with marginalized sexuality or gender identity.

Another on Nemat Sedat’s list is Giti Mehr, 27, who is non-binary and in a relationship with a bisexual man.

They studied medicine, but are also unable to find work because of their sexuality – and want to flee to Canada to be able to marry their partner.

After meeting each other on Facebook five years ago, they started a close relationship three years ago but have had to keep it a secret from others.

“If the Taliban find out that we are LGBT, they will put us under the wall or they will cut off our heads and destroy us,” they said.

“Some LGBT friends whose identities were revealed were arrested and taken to the police station where they were brutally tortured and raped by the group. After their release, they suffered from mental health problems and were taken to hospitals where they were identified and detained in Kabul.

“We are in a situation where we are like birds in a cage and I want to move to Canada, our dream country, and get married there as soon as possible.”

Since we first spoke, Giti has messaged again to say family members overpowered her to speak to her partner and threatened to hand her over to the Taliban before throwing her out.

Her partner Hamid, 53, said he was frustrated by the lack of help for LGBTQ+ Afghans.

“At present, the LGBT people in Afghanistan are the most vulnerable group in the world, who are in danger of death at any time,” he said. “Why aren’t they supported materially and spiritually and transferred?

“In Afghanistan, LGBT people are even more vulnerable than women, as they cannot even carry family necessities home from the market.

“LGBT people have the right to liberty, the right to travel, the right to life and the right to express their feelings.”

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

For more stories like this, Visit our news page.

https://metro.co.uk/2022/06/12/were-seen-as-a-cancer-on-society-the-lgbt-people-desperate-to-escape-afghanistan-16780773/ 'We are seen as the cancer of society': LGBT people are trying desperately to flee Afghanistan

Justin Scacco

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