Gay man denied claim as refugee

Posted by admin on Apr 14th, 2008

April 14, 2008. Nicholas Keung. Immigration/Diversity Reporter

Joaquin Ramirez is afraid to be sent home to his native El Salvador and face the three police officers that he claims raped him in a sugarcane field two years ago. The 39-year-old HIV-positive man said the accused perpetrators have visited his family and threatened to kill him because he infected them with the virus that causes AIDS. But the story of Ramirez, a closeted gay man, hasn’t impressed Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board or a border service removal officer, who asked why he didn’t ask authorities back home for protection.

“I didn’t tell anyone that I was raped because I was too ashamed of myself. I didn’t tell the police. I didn’t tell the people in the hospital. I didn’t tell my own family,” explained the soft-spoken man, who took advantage of the 2006 HIV/AIDS conference in Toronto as a way out.

“How could I go to the same people and ask them to protect me when it’s the same people who did this to me?” asked Ramirez, before he started crying and had to stop the interview.

Unlike most of the estimated 160 AIDS conference delegates who successfully sought asylum in Canada in 2006, Ramirez is believed to be among a minority turned down, said Francisco Rico-Martinez, executive director of Toronto’s FCJ Refugee Centre.

“What we found shocking in Joaquin’s case is that the risk of being a gay person in El Salvador was not properly assessed in these decisions,” Rico-Martinez said.

Ramirez, a clothing and shoe vendor from San Salvador, was a volunteer outreach worker with the Young Men’s Christian Association and the Salvadoran Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, with a mission to educate the public on safe sex and give out free condoms.

He said he was picked on by three drunken officers at an Aguilares restaurant on Jan. 13, 2006, and driven to a plantation field where the alleged assault took place.

“I took out some condoms in my bag and asked them to put them on because I was HIV-positive.

“They just laughed and said I lied so they wouldn’t rape me,” recalled Ramirez, who has had a long history of sexual abuse by his relatives. “They just pushed me to the ground, ripped off my clothes off, beat me and raped me.”

The police officers took off with Ramirez’s money and a phone book, he said, leaving him bleeding and bruised in the empty field.

Five months later, Ramirez said, a stranger called his sister for his whereabouts and threatened to kill him for infecting him with HIV. A group of men fitting the attackers’ descriptions have also visited her home several times looking for him, he claimed. That’s about the same time the AIDS conference organizer responded to the application Ramirez sent in the year before – and prior to the alleged rape.

In his decision las May, refugee board adjudicator Chimbo Mutuma said he didn’t believe Ramirez left El Salvador because of the alleged assault as he had already planned to leave in November 2005.

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