A 25-year-old Jordanian refugee and LGBTIQ+ activist has finally begun a new life in Australia after an ordeal spanning three years and four countries that saw them become the subject of multiple Interpol notices and included nearly a week in Lebanese custody last Christmas.
Alshaima Omama Alzubi, previously only known to media by their initials, landed in Australia on 1 January following efforts by non-government and human rights organisations to get them to safety.
“Now I feel supported, seen, heard and treated like a human being regardless of my beliefs, gender identity, and sexual orientation,” Alzubi told SBS News.
Alzubi, who identifies as a non-binary lesbian, fled their family in Jordan for Turkey in July 2020.
Homosexuality was decriminalised in Jordan in 1951, though most LGBTIQ+ people face various forms of discrimination and stigma.
After escaping Jordan, Alzubi was the subject of various Interpol notices, Amnesty International said. Alzubi's family is powerful and has influence across the Middle East, the rights group added, and has family members who work for the Jordanian government.
In late December, days before their flight to Australia, Alzubi said they were stripped of their passport, detained and “harassed” in Lebanese custody for five days. The .
Amnesty said at the time there were “serious concerns” Alzubi’s family were “manipulating” their “forced repatriation” back to Jordan, and any return could have presented a danger to their life.
Jordan’s Foreign Ministry denied its embassy in Beirut had any involvement in Alzubi’s custody, saying it didn’t receive notice of their arrest or attempt to repatriate them forcefully, Lebanon-based news outlet L’Orient Today reported.
"I was terrified of getting deported," Alzubi said.
But with the help of the non-government organisations, as well as Australian diplomats in Lebanon, they managed to get on a flight out of the country on 30 December.
Since arriving in Australia on a humanitarian visa, Alzubi has begun to see a therapist and been introduced to their local LGBTIQ+ community.
"[I want to] move on in my life, continue my education, [and have] a great career and independence," they said.
"Finally I have the chance to be myself without people shaming me and trying to kill me for it."
Alzubi said they were thankful for the Australian government and NGOs that helped them establish a new life in a place they feel accepted for their sexuality and beliefs.
"To all of the women and the LGBTIQ+ community in the Middle East, there’s always a way to be free. We just need the right people to help us," Alzubi said.
"Never be ashamed of being yourself, never be sorry for who you are. Don’t let religion or anyone control your being.
"No one on Earth can be you."