AARON Bloomfield was enjoying a Mediterranean cruise destined for Istanbul, Turkey last European summer when he gained firsthand knowledge about the hardships LGBTI asylum seekers face and became angry at Australia’s hardline policy towards displaced Syrians.
With a few days to explore the city historically known as Constantinople, Bloomfield hit up one of the local gay bars and started chatting to Amir*, a 27-year-old sociology major.
As the two men spent more time chatting, Amir revealed he was actually a Syrian refugee hoping to find passage through Greece with the aim of getting to Germany to seek asylum and find work to support his family still in Syria.
Amir’s story, while tragic, is not uncommon. In Syria – which has been embroiled in a bloody conflict for almost five years – his home was destroyed, three of his brothers and sisters have been killed as a result of the conflict, three are in refugee camps, and three more of his siblings had fled to Turkey with their parents.
The war in Syria has caused almost five million people to flee Syria, with about 1.5 million of those refugees heading to Turkey, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
From there many try to get to Europe or even take the treacherous journey to Australia to seek asylum.
Upon arriving to Turkey, Amir thought he was lucky to find work quickly doing manual labour, but after two months of back-breaking work his employers never paid him and he learnt Syrian refugees don’t have many rights in that country.
“As he discovered, refugees in Turkey have little rights and protections,” Bloomfield said.
“Consequently, he would be unable to take action to receive payment for the work he performed. Hard manual labour – without being paid a cent.”
As the only sibling without children, Amir was obligated to find his way to Germany to find work to support his family. The day Bloomfield met him, he had just paid a man $1500 to get access to a dodgy looking vessel to get him to Greece to get on the tough path to Turkey.
“I saw on the news in the next few days a boat had capsized near Greece and it had that young toddler (Aylan Kurdi) on board and a lot of people died,” Bloomfield told Star Observer.
“I’m not sure if he was on it, but it makes you realise how dangerous it can be.”
Amir’s situation is complicated further by the fact he is gay, which in Syria is illegal; being LGBTI is punishable by jail or death.
Death could come at the hands of family members or the fundamentalist organisation ISIL which has a stronghold in many parts of war-torn Syria. Images of ISIL throwing gay men to their death from the tops of high buildings have shocked the world.
“Amir had not shared his sexuality with his family,” Bloomfield said.
“After enduring the hardships he would soon face and by showing unqualified loyalty to his family by trying to rescue them from homelessness and displacement, Amir would quite possibly be disowned by his family once his sexual orientation was disclosed.
“A brutal reality.”
After hearing Amir’s story, Bloomfield became angry at Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s comments that asylum seekers were illiterate and would come here to steal Australians’ jobs.
Bloomfield reached out to Star Observer to tell Amir’s story and to show asylum seekers are humans trying to escape war and find a better life for themselves.
“As an Australian thinking about Amir’s experience, it occurred to me that, should Amir have been attempting to reach Australia, he would not be welcomed,” Bloomfield said.
“The only hope for his future is one that could possibly kill him. That was the reality Amir was living.
“The gentle calm with which Amir described his circumstance belied his true emotions: a mix of hope, fear, and desperation. What was he to do – he questioned? Stay in Turkey and rot or risk everything trying for a future?”
Amir put his phone number into Bloomfield phone, but it has been almost a year since he has seen or spoken to him.
“Before saying goodbye, Amir saved his number into my phone,” he said.
“I have been unable to contact him to hear if he made the journey safely. It is a confronting reality that his boat may not have arrived in Greece…. but it might have.
“If it did, it is possible that Amir and his family are taking steps to build a new life for themselves in Germany. I hope they are.”
*Amir is not his real name.