“I had to flee from Uzbekistan because I could not bear the humiliation, bullying, and abuse anymore. Because I am gay, people taunted me with the nickname “girl”, harassed me on social media, and beat me up in the street,” tells Karim (not his real name – we are using a pseudonym to protect his identity).
Karim came to Russia in 2008 for the first time. In order to save money for the ticket to Moscow, he worked as a waiter in a café in Uzbekistan and then moved to earn some money to Kazakhstan where he worked as a house painter. “I didn’t want to stay in Kazakhstan. It was not a welcoming environment there: people at my work treated migrant workers in a rude way and constantly called me a “girl” as a joke. I saved money, returned to Uzbekistan, and then went to Moscow,” recollects Karim. He is a general worker at the construction site, and likes it here. In Moscow, Karim faces less violence because of his sexual orientation, he can connect with other gays on LGBTQ dating apps, and in general feels more confident in Russia.
“Here in Moscow, I also have to hide my sexual orientation, especially at the construction site, where I work with a lot of my fellow countrymen,” says Karim. “Once they saw me hugging my friend from Tadzhikistan and they beat me up. They had noticed something special in my behavior before but that time they realized that I am gay and decided to teach me a lesson”.
That evening Karim’s coworkers beat him up, cut his hand, and stole his documents. “They told me that it was God’s punishment for my dirty deeds,” says Karim. This homophobic assault happened in 2019. After the attack, Karim had to return to Uzbekistan to replace stolen documents. His parents were unaware of threats that made him flee and of him being gay.
“In Uzbekistan I was scared to run across people who had bullied me earlier, and meet with my family members, as I didn’t know for sure if they made a guess about my sexual orientation,” says Karim. One day, according to Karim, his mother saw him with another man and probably realized he was gay, but she didn’t tell anybody about it.
In Uzbekistan, Karim met up with his old friend. “We went to a quiet corner and started to hug, kiss, and planned to have sex. It turned out that some young men took a video of us. I don’t know whether they put the video online, but soon after the incident my brother started to frighten me on social networks” says Karim.
His brother told him never to come back to Uzbekistan, threatened to beat him and said that they are not a family any longer. Soon after Karim returned to Moscow, those young men who recorded the video found him on social media. “They extorted money from me threatening to send the video to my relatives,” says Karim. He didn’t have any money and had to close social network accounts. “I am so tired of being gay, constantly hiding, and feaing that someone would beat me or that my relatives would know about my sexual orientation”. Civic Assistance Committee specialists recommended Karim to apply for temporary asylum in Russia.
It turned out that Karim’s work permit was overdue because a supervisor in a company where Karim worked had stopped paying for it. “I found it out only when the police stopped me and checked the documents. My supervisor used to bring some receipts previously. I thought everything was ok,” says Karim.
The Migration Service in Russia denied both refugee status and temporary asylum to Karim. “I don’t know what to do. In Uzbekistan I will either be imprisoned – and the chances of gays returning alive from prison are almost zero – or I will be killed by fellow villagers,” says Karim.
A migration consultant of the Civic Assistance Committee, Varvara Tretyak, explains that Karim’s fears are well-founded: persecution of LGBTQ people in Uzbekistan has been increasing. Same-sex male relations is a criminal offense in Uzbekistan. Besides, community members used to practice so-called “spectacular punishment”.
“Sometimes this spectacular punishment ends with murder. Nowadays there is also a popular practice in Uzbekistan to publish information about gay people on Telegram Channels. Persecutors find victims in Russia on dating apps and then intimidate and threaten them in social networks,” says Varvara Tretyak.
Karim has a well-founded fear of persecution and has the right to ask for temporary asylum in Russia. At this point, however, Russia has never granted refugee status or temporary asylum on LGBTQ grounds, though the number of asylum seekers has increased.
“The appeal process can last for several years. It does not give applicants any official status, but may protect them from refoulement. If the police stop them, they would be able to provide court documents about their appeal. Previously they had nothing to show,” adds Tretyak.
According to the data of the Civic Assistance Committee lawyers, the majority of LGBTQ asylum seekers are from Uzbekistan. Some of them come from Tadzhikistan and Nigeria. However, most of LGBTQ refugees in Russia stay unauthorized. Some of them become disillusioned with the institution of asylum in Russia and stop communication with the Civic Assistance Committee. Others do not apply for help, as they can work undocumented.
Karim’s case is unique because the Migration Service has not disputed that he belongs to LGBTQ. “In previous cases even sexual orientation of applicants was put in question and they were asked to prove it with documents,” says Tretyak. “In Karim’s case Migration Service even made a reference to Uzbekistan criminal law regarding homosexuality, but in their decision they wrote that this is not a reasonable cause for granting asylum in Russia”.
By Karina Merkuryeva, Radio Svoboda