DRESDEN, Germany — Rami Ktifan made a snap decision to come out. A fellow Syrian had spotted a rainbow flag lying near the 23-year-old university student’s belongings inside a packed refugee center. The curious man, Ktifan recalled, picked it up before casually asking, “What is this?”
“I decided to tell the truth, that it is the flag for gay people like me,” Ktifan said. “I thought, I am in Europe now. In Germany, I should not have to hide anymore.”
What followed over the next several weeks, though, was abuse — both verbal and physical — from other refugees, including an attempt to burn Ktifan’s feet in the middle of the night. The harassment ultimately became so severe that he and two other openly gay asylum seekers were removed from the refugee center with the aid of a local gay activist group and placed in separate accommodations across town.
As the largest flow of refugees since World War II streams into Europe, Ktifan’s case illustrates an emerging problem for gay and lesbian asylum seekers. Some of them arrive in Europe only to find themselves under threat from fellow refugees.
Gays who face official persecution in nations such as Iran and Uganda have been fleeing to Europe for years. But experts estimate that a record number of gays and lesbians seeking asylum, as many as 50,000, will arrive this year in Germany, the European nation accepting the largest number of refugees. Rather than leaving their home countries specifically because of anti-gay persecution, many are fleeing violence and war in nations such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.