The stars of the 2016 documentary Out of Iraq have shared their love story with Ellen DeGeneres this week, describing what it was like when they were finally reunited in America.
Nayyef Hrebid and Btoo Allami first met when they were serving in the Iraqi military during the US led invasion.
They were forced to hide their love during the conflict, in a country where same-sex relationships are taboo and homophobic attacks are common.
Speaking to DeGeneres, Hrebid said that it’s difficult being gay in Iraq.
“Family and friends, everyone, they say being gay is sick. They find out about you and you either get tortured or killed. As our relationship grew, we felt we could not stay.”
Hrebid worked as a translator for a group of marines and was able to submit a plea for asylum in the US. But it would take years before he was able to obtain a visa for Allami to join him.
After Skyping every day for four years, the couple were finally reunited in the US. They have since married and live in Seattle.
“Seattle’s so beautiful. Everyone there is very friendly, and we could be who we are without anyone bothering us, without hiding,” says Hrebid of his new home.
The pair now help LGBT+ youth who arrive from the Middle East, assisting them with accommodation and helping them adjust to the culture.
“Of course, they have good reasons to leave their homes, but it’s not easy for them. It wasn’t easy when I came here for the first time, with only $50 in my pocket. People helped us, so now it’s my time to pay them back.”
DeGeneres presented Hrebid and Allami with a cheque for $25,000USD to help fund their charitable work and assist them in buying a home. The couple wiped away tears, humbled by the generous gesture.
The interview aired just before US President Donald Trump signed an executive order to halt visas issued to citizens of several predominantly Muslim countries.
Green card holders from the list of banned countries were stopped at US airports over the weekend and temporarily detained, including Iraqi immigrant Hameed Khalid Darweesh who was a translator for the US Army during the Iraq War.