Germany Denies Asylum To Iranian Lesbian, Suggests More “Discreet Lifestyle”

Samira Ghorbani Danesh, 24, says she fled Iran for fear of repression for being a lesbian. A German court has denied her asylum request, ruling that she can live unbothered back in her native country so long as she hides her homosexuality.

Police are watching in Iran (Amir Farshad Ebrahimi)
Police are watching in Iran (Amir Farshad Ebrahimi)
Silke Mülherr

BAYREUTH - One of her last memories of Iran is a noisy party. It was back in 2009, and some 50 young people had gathered in a Tehran apartment. "We were happy, a lot of us were dancing," says Samira Ghorbani Danesh, now 24.

But that same party --or more specifically the guests at the party, gay men and lesbians-- has a lot to do with why Samira no longer lives in Tehran, why she fled to Germany.

Samira now lives in a home for women in northern Bavaria, terrified that German authorities will soon send her back to Iran where she never wants to set foot again.

"At the party, I wanted to get a little air and I went out on the balcony," she recalls. Looking down at the street she got the fright of her life: there were three dark cars lined up, and heavy-set men were getting out of them.

"Every kid in Iran knows these people – members of the secret police. Drinking alcohol is forbidden in Iran; so is western music," she says. And then there was the fact that at this party, the guys were kissing guys, and the women were kissing women.

"I was 15 or 16 when I realized I was a lesbian," Samira says. But homosexuality in Iran is not only a social taboo. "If you're caught, you go to jail," says Katayun Pirawardi, also from Iran, who has been living in Germany since 1977.

Today, Pirawardi, 49, is involved with a Berlin-Brandenburg lesbian and gay association, but she knows the situation of gays and lesbians in Iran all too well. "If you can, you get out," she says. The ones who stay have to keep their sexual orientation hidden. "People are very rarely arrested on charges of homosexuality. The authorities make up some kind of other charge."

Time to hide

When she saw the cops get out of the cars and storm the building, Samira says she tried to warn the others but the music was too loud and nobody paid any attention. She herself fled to a neighboring apartment and hid while the people back at the party were being arrested. "I was so scared I could hardly think," she remembers.

After it was all over she couldn't simply return home. "My parents didn't know I was a lesbian." She says she assumed that the police had meanwhile gone to her family home and that her parents had learned of the arrest from them. Samira's girlfriend S. had also been at the party; they'd been a secret couple for three years. They met when they were both studying architecture at university.

"We didn't have any problem keeping our relationship secret. When we wanted to be together, we told our parents that we were working on a university project," Samira says.

Samira has no idea how S. is doing now, or even where she is. She only knows that she was questioned by police and also that her parents received a visit from the police. "And I was so scared of my family --that they would seek revenge because I had publically shamed them," she says.

So the young woman collected every cent she had, and left the country, crossing the border into Turkey with the help of a smuggler.

"Credible" danger?

She finally ended up in Germany, where she thought she was safe. She learned German. But now there is some question as to whether she will be allowed to stay in Germany: her application for asylum was refused by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), and her appeal was turned down by the Bayreuth Administrative Court on the grounds that Samira had not "credibly established that she was in danger in Iran."

The court did recognize that homosexuality is punishable in Iran --with the death penalty for men; 100 lashes for women, and the death penalty after a fourth charge. "The judge in Bayreuth had some doubts about the plaintiff's claims that the police were after her," a court spokesperson told Die Welt.

"Why would I make something like that up, and leave my family and friends?" Samira asks. The court reached the verdict that she could live safely if she simply practiced the "unobtrusive way of life practiced by all homosexuals in Iran who don't want any trouble."

Samira says she feels abandoned: "I am so frightened, how could they send me back?" she asks, her voice breaking. The young woman had a month after the verdict was delivered to leave Germany: her papers are only valid until June 30.

Samira's lawyer, Gisela Seidler, is not giving up. "Samira is ‘out" now, her case has aroused public attention," she says – so a safe life in Iran is not possible. The lawyer has reapplied for asylum, and Samira hopes that this time authorities won't let her down. Germany, she says, is the country where she can live how she wants, and love who she wants.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Amir Farshad Ebrahimi

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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