Outdoor World

2 gay Iraqi soldiers found love amid war. Then the death threats started

Seattle Each nighttime, when the gun fell silent in Iraq, Btoo Allami would invite his pal Nayyef Hrebid over for dinner .

The music stopped, but a love story was just beginning.
A decade ago, Allami was a sergeant in the Iraqi military when he fulfilled Hrebid, then a translator for the US Marines.
Activist had grabbed a hospital in Ramadi, and they were part of a mission to reclaim it .

When not defusing bombs, they’d talk late into the night at a pitch black lot surrounded by Humvees. Allami fell in love, unafraid of the campaign, yet scared by what was happening with Hrebid.

Their love story would take them through two continents as they joined the 22 million refugees in the world ,~ ATAGEND all fleeing conflict, grinding poverty and in their case, persecution from activists and relatives. Last year, simply 14,700 Iraqi refugees were resettled worldwide, says Andrej Mahecic, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency. The UN does not have the number of applicants who assertion asylum based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Few countries, if any, collect such statistics, he says.

Taking opportunities

Neither Hrebid nor Allami knew the other was homosexual. Iraq is not a country where same-sex attraction is discussed in the open.
LGBT people in Iraq risk harassment, beatings, and brutal destroys — sometimes by own family members. ISIS, which held large-scale swaths of Iraqi territory until recently, has furthermore targeted lesbian men, tossing many to their deaths from tall buildings .
Despite health risks, Allami took a chance 2 week after they met. “I love you, ” he told Hrebid .

Hrebid did not say a word, but described him close and kissed him .

Allami was so excited, he didn’t eat for two days. At the time, he didn’t know that Hrebid desired his calm demeanor and the lane his dark whisker shone in the sunlight.
Their relationship developed, but in secret. They knew enjoying one another openly could be deadly. Even during the days of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, when the US did not officially let gay people to serve in the military, Hrebid says a base officer allowed them to spend time together at the American base.
Their talks threw them in a bubble. During those minutes, war and bloodshed was not available .

One last night

Hrebid loved his job as a translator.
At the base, his American friends called him David to protect his identity. But word get out that he was gay, and that he was a US translator. His name was added to a militant hit list positioned on the streets of Ramadi .

People started talking. It was time to leave.
In March 2009, Hrebid applied for asylum as part of a program that dedicates preference to Iraqis and Afghans who translated for the American government overseas. Hrebid’s application was approved eight months later.
The night he got his US visa, they sat up all nighttime in a candlelit room, hugging one another and crying.
As much as it crushed him, Hrebid winged to Seattle in December 2009, leaving Allami behind .

But they maintained their promise to stay in touching. One night, as they chatted on Skype, Allami’s relatives overheard them and recognise he was gay.
Some of his relatives accused him of bringing disgrace to the family, and wanted him killed, he says. Terrified, Allami deserted the military and stuffed a backpack with gasps and a few T-shirts. Hrebid paid for his ticket to flee to Lebanon in November 2010.
Seven thousand miles away, Hrebid started his new life in Seattle, the only place he knew person in the US.
But while he was finally safe, he’d lie awake fret. What if Allami was detained for overstaying his 30 -day tourist visa and deported back to Iraq? A return home now included the risk of seizure by the military for desertion.

One day, while at “states parties “, Hrebid met activist Michael Failla and told him about his relationship with Allami. His new friend would become their lifeline.

Living in the shadows

Allami’s new life in Beirut did not involve parties and new friendships. He lived in the shadows and worked illegally as a shoe salesman for $250 a month. Hrebid sent him money to help with upkeep as he urgently sought a behavior to get him to Seattle.
With every day invested away from Hrebid, Allami sank further into depression. He’d sit in bed at night and guzzle bottles of brew .

Hrebid blamed himself as Allami languished in a new country. Despite the time difference, they did their best to maintain a “normal” relationship. They would Skype and virtually eat together — breakfast for one and dinner for the other .

“We would cook together, and discuss things almost like we lived together, ” Hrebid recalls.
They also rained each other with sentimental gifts, including locks of each other’s hair .

Hrebid would sit in couch, reek Allami’s hair and sobbing. Other days, he’d send Allami long letters describing his undying adoration.
“My heart melts at the sound of your voice, ” one letter says. “When I look at you, I watch clear skies.”
In December 2010, desperate to join Hrebid, Allami filed for asylum from the United Nations refugee organization , not knowing it would take times.

The United Nations refugee agency interviewed Allami eight times, but his application was bogged down by translation corrects, according to Failla, who attended several interviews with him.
One error in particular complicated his lawsuit. During one asylum interview, he was asked whether as a soldier, he was familiar with the Abu Ghraib prison torture. He said he watched it on Tv — but it was translated that he witnessed it first-hand, implying he was complicit, Failla says.
In the process of seeking asylum, applicants can have a preference for country of resettlement, but countries decide whether to accept an applicant .

Allami’s preference was the US. But the agonizing wait for a decision was so long, he applied for a separate visa to Canada at its embassy in Beirut.
In March 2013, nearly three years after he escaped from Iraq, Canada said yes.
Allami arrived in Vancouver in May of the same time. He was now 150 miles away from Hrebid, and their dream of living together suddenly seemed within reach .

Hrebid would drive to Vancouver every weekend to watch him. On Valentine’s Day 2014, they got married at a courthouse in Vancouver, with Failla as a witness.
“We ever say Michael was our angel — the world requires more angels like Michael, ” Hrebid says.

Washington state realise same-sex wedlocks at the time, and Hrebid speedily applied for a visa for his new husband at the US Consulate in Montreal .

When the consular bureaucrat approved it, Allami sat down on the embassy flooring and wept. Hrebid covered his mouth and screamed .

“I was shaking so hard, ” Allami says. “I asked the embassy person to repeat again merely to be sure.”

A new chapter

The date March 6, 2015, will forever be inscribed in Allami’s mind. He finally moved to Seattle to be with Hrebid .

A few months later, on August 8 of the same year, they had their nightmare wedding at Failla’s house, surrounded by friends.

Allami then applied for permanent residency — known as a greencard — as Hrebid’s husband. The couple enjoys “peoples lives” in Seattle, where they live with their Siberian Husky, Cesar, and cat, Lodus. A rainbow flag draped over the balcony of their new town home flutterings in the wind.
Inside their home, black and white photos of their wedding day line the walls. In other photos, they are hiking through the mountains or simply gazing into each other’s eyes.
After six years of living on different continents, their new life is idyllic. Hrebid is a kitchen expert at a home improvement storage while Allami is a maintenance worker for a residential building .

Failla describes the couple as “major influencers” in the gay community in Seattle. They open their home to LGBT people who’ve fled the Middle East, used to help get employment creation and into schools, and teach them about their new culture in the US. They’ve helped 21 people find jobs and places to bide, and work together with several rights groups such as Canada’s Rainbow Refugee to assist more .

“First we were the ones who needed aid now it’s our turn to help, ” Hrebid says. “Anything we can do, even if it’s changing people’s psyches just by sharing our story.”
Their story is already is carrying out change .

Christine Matthews, a deputy director for the UN refugee agency, said last year they used the gaps in Allami’s case as a learning experience. They have since launched an effort to sensitize staff members of the best ways to process such claims.
“We need to do better for refugees, all refugees including LGBT refugees, ” she said .

And after years of separation, Hrebid still wakes up at night and asks: Am I daydream or is this real? Are we really marriage? Will I wake up one day and find you gone ?

“It’s almost like that panic never leaves you, ” he says.
In Iraq, the two say they are considered an shame to their communities, and family members don’t utter their epithets.
“Out of Iraq, ” a documentary on their romance and fight for asylum, lately won an Emmy, but its two suns say they are hardly feted back home.
Even though they can’t go back to Iraq for fear of being killed, they’ve learned to define “home” in their own style .

“He’s their own families, he’s my safe place, my adoration, ” Allami says as Hrebid gently strokes his face.
“I may not have my country anymore, but he’s my own country now.”
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