NIVINE, 24 years old, She/Her
Nivine looks like Tokyo from the Spanish TV series Casa de Papel, with extra tattoos and piercings. Beautiful and petite, she developed her strength from the beatings and the threats that her life as a lesbian in a war-torn Syria inflicted on her starting with her first love, at the age of 18. For today’s youth, the keeper of secrets is unfortunately not a hermetic character out of Harry Potter. The catalyst for the dramas involving Nivine and her first lover was the mobile phone. A rumor had been circulating in the neighborhood about Nivine’s special love affair with a female neighbor of the same age. To get to the heart of the matter, Nivine’s mother got a hold of the memory card in her daughter’s phone when it was in for repairs. The photos and messages revealed everything. The caring mother felt more pain than anger towards her daughter, but that was not the case with the rest of the family.
As for the girlfriend, her brother was watching her closely and he saw her sending messages on her mobile phone. He confiscated the phone, read the messages, locked up his sister and called Nivine to threaten her with filing a complaint with the police. Homosexuality in Syria is punishable by five years in prison, in addition to a fine. Nivine’s life was upended right at that moment.
The war that had been raging on the Syrian streets for 7 years had just entered her home. The angry, macho, violent and homophobic father began to sow terror at home.
In November 2018, encouraged by her mother, Nivine arrived in Lebanon, a neighbouring country, accessible with few resources.
The mother paid dearly for her love of her only daughter: violence, threats, insults, humiliations, divorce and illness followed the departure of her child.
Once in Lebanon, Nivine immediately headed to the offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to seek help and protection. She had received threats from her family and her girlfriend’s brother, saying they would track her down even in Lebanon. The first meetings with two UNHCR staff members were disappointing, tainted by unhealthy and derogatory sarcasm. One staff member told Nivine to return to Syria if she was not satisfied with the services offered by the agency, while the other told her that she did not have a private plane at her disposition to immediately whisk her to a safe location…
Also, the news from Syria was traumatic. Her mother was in the hospital, and it was impossible for Nivine to get in touch with her. The young woman had no updates about her mother’s condition and could not return to Syria and risk being arrested and put in jail.
With the help of MOSAIC, Nivine managed to file a complaint against the two UNHCR agents and her case eventually went through. She found a job as a barista in a café and made a few friends among the employees and the customers.
The macho manager of the café set out to prove to her that a “real” man would make her “change her mind” about her homosexuality, as if sexual orientation was a fashion accessory. He proceeded to summon her to his office during while she was at work, and asked her to perform on a live porn site with him. She turned him down and was forced to quit her job.
The people’s revolt was in full swing. Life became very expensive, the Lebanese pound lost a great deal of its value, many establishments were forced to close because of the coronavirus. Being Syrian in Lebanon exacerbated many sensitivities due to racial or political reasons, or maybe a little bit of both, and it became increasingly difficult for Nivine to find work. However, she found shelter and friendship with a group of Ethiopian women, with whom she shared the housing and the rent. And then August 4th happened… Nivine’s apartment is a bit removed from the epicenter of the explosion, so the damage was limited to the loss of all the windows, but nevertheless left them all in a state of depressive shock for over a month. No income, no jobs, just garbage bags covering the windows in lieu of the glass…
The only piece of good news came towards the end of 2020 in a form of a call from the Canadian Embassy asking her to make herself available for a medical examination. Nivine’s application as a refugee to Canada was accepted! Then, another call from the Embassy informed her that in light of the ongoing pandemic, her application’s status remained pending until further notice.
After 7 months without work, facing homophobia and racism, Nivine was forced to sell her laptop and her phone to help pay the rent: “I can’t leave the house where I currently live. It is the only place where I feel safe, thanks to the people I live with. I am often unable to pay my share of the rent or buy any groceries, but my roommates do not ask for anything. They accept me as a member of the family. They are refugees as well. I have found help from people who need it as much as I do. These people suffer daily from racial discrimination and infested working conditions. And they still manage to help me. »
During the interview, Nivine told us:
“I am deprived of my mother, I am deprived of education. What I need right now is security, to be able to communicate with my mother, continue my studies, have a roof over my head, a job, be free like anyone who has the right to live. That’s all I want, I don’t ask for anything else.
In the Arabic societies, it is difficult for us to exist because we cannot change how things are. The only way to have a dignified life is to leave, to go live in a nation that protects us, a society that respects us, like Canada, Holland, Germany, countries where you can walk down the street and say “that’s who I am”, or not even have to say anything, just be free to live and express yourself. If you can get that security here, or in any other Arabic country, no one will seek to leave, that much I know. We just need to feel safe, to work, to be free like anyone else with an education and a job. We don’t want to be rejected by our society, we don’t want to be judged by the way we walk, how we dress, what we think or who we love. »
The comforting object
We gave the participants the option of bringing with them, should they choose to, a comforting object or accessory they would like to have during the interview. Nivine brought a teddy bear:
“He came with me from Syria – I tell him everything, he is the only member of my family who was able to accompany me. He reminds me of my homeland, of my home. Mostly, he reminds me of my mom.»
6 months in rent, transport, food, clothing: CAD 6,000
Laptop : 600 CAD
Mobile phone: 700 CAD
Total : 7 300 CAD