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Calgary’s Centre for Newcomers tailors specific programs for LGBTQ+ Afghan refugees

The Centre for Newcomers is creating a safe space for LGBTQ+ Afghan refugees, says the group’s director of the LGBTQ+ and Vulnerable Populations.

According to Boban Stojanovic, with the Centre for Newcomers in Calgary, they’re expecting five to six members to arrive in Calgary in the new next two weeks. There could be 15 more by the end of the year.

Some of the centre’s programs will be adjusted based on the needs of the new LGBTQ+ refugees.

“We can provide a full settlement service in their first language. It’s totally safe, so they can disclose who they are and they can share their experience in a safe environment,” said Stojanovic.

LGBTQ+ Afghan refugees will need basic needs upon their arrival to Calgary, including, learning to socialize, getting to know the city and being able to use transit,” Stojanovic said.

The centre is ensuring to make these standard settlement services in the first language if needed. They have an entire trained team dedicated to the job.  

“We can provide psychological and emotional support in a first language because the vulnerable population and LGBTQ plus program teams are trained for situations of sensitization and trauma-informed work,” said Stojanovic.

“We’re learning from working with a few of them who are now in Calgary, that a lot of trauma is there. They will need some time simply to adjust to a new society and to overcome all the trauma from back home.”

Some countries not open to LGBTQ+ people, said Stojanovic

According to Stojanovic, these programs are important because LGBTQ+ newcomers can’t be treated like other groups of refugees. They may find it difficult to disclose who they are.

Stojanovic said there may be some LGBTQ+ Afghan refugees that have already arrived in Calgary but are not ready to disclose who they are. They may come to the centre eventually to do so.

“In these programs, they can disclose who they are, they can set the experience, they can put different kind of questions related to the LGBTQ community, for example how to socialize,” said Stojanovic.

“An important aspect of being a newcomer LGBTQ, in particular, is connecting with your own community. Many times LGBTQ newcomers don’t feel safe within the cultural communities, because many communities from all over the world are not so open to LGBTQ people.”

The obstacles that the LGBTQ+ newcomers will face, according to Stojanovic, are the cultural differences, language barriers and the importance of mental health.

“There is a different perception of mental health between here and back in Afghanistan. In many cultures, mental health will not be perceived as something that is a priority,” Stojanovic said.

“But of course, it will affect the rest of your life. Therefore, we try to understand what’s really going on, we try to teach them how to deal with it and what can be beneficial for them,” said Stojanovic.

Many of the current LGBTQ+ Afghan refugees were referred through their key program partner, the Rainbow Railroad. That’s a global not-for-profit organization that helps LGTBQI+ people facing persecution.

“The Rainbow Railroad will refer all those people to us. For example, if there are people who have to be resettled to Calgary, we will be informed about it and then we will take further steps to support them,” Stojanovic said.