News / Edmonton

'They don't have anyone': New LGBTQ group offers safe haven

Syrian refugee started social support system two years ago

Basel Abou Hamrah is the founder of the Edmonton LGBTQ Newcomers Group.

Kevin Tuong / for metro

Basel Abou Hamrah is the founder of the Edmonton LGBTQ Newcomers Group.

Canada can be seen as a safe haven for members of the LGBTQ community fleeing persecution in other countries.

But if they don’t find supports when they get here, they might not feel any safer than they did back home.

That’s why Basel Abou Hamrah, a Syrian refugee who came to Edmonton close to two years ago, founded the LGBTQ Newcomers Group.

“Most of (the members) came from countries that are not supportive for LGBTQ, so they are running away from persecution in their home countries. And they came here, they wanted safety, they wanted to be who they are,” he said. “But when they don’t find any supports it will be more terrible for them.”

Abou Hamrah, who also works at the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, was scheduled to speak about his experiences with the group in a panel discussion at the Edmonton Women’s Symposium on Saturday.

He launched the group with six people last May, and since then it’s grown to more than 30.

Members do a broad variety of activities together including yoga, movie nights, karaoke nights, field trips and volunteering — “it’s very important to give back to the community,” he said.

Last year, the group spent holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving together.

“The idea of this group is a social support group to make friends and to be family for each other. Lots of refugee claimants who are LGBTQ, live here without their families. So we want to be support for each other and family for each other,” Abou Hamrah said.

Without that, he said, many would feel lost and alone.

“They isolate themselves here, because there is no support, nothing to them. They don’t have anyone to talk to.”

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