Asylum Granted

Kosovo GLBT activist finds safe harbor in U.S.

By Yusef Najafi
Photography by Todd Franson
Published on March 6, 2008, 12:00am | Comments

Even though his face was hidden behind a curtain, and a scrambler used to disguise his voice, Korab Zuka still felt anxious about taking part two years ago in Kosovo's first televised debate about the normalcy of homosexuality. That's partly because most people knew Zuka as the founder and director of the Centre for Social Emancipation, Kosovo's first GLBT equal rights organization.

''My father was a political activist, so I think I got a little from the family and then the rest is just the strong will that [I] really believe that people are free, and there's no one in the world who can deny you of those rights, '' he says.

Gay-rights opponents knew the televised debate was live, and for them, it didn't matter who was behind the curtain. They waited for Zuka, then 22, after the show.

''People chased me and tried to kill me, '' Zuka says. ''The fact that they came to the TV station was scary -- that somebody was coming to kill [me]. ''

Zuka used documents provided by the television station, as well as others recounting the death threats he received to argue his case for seeking political asylum in the United States.

''There is so much water a glass can hold before it starts pouring out, '' he says.

Kosovo, a former province of Serbia, had been under U.N. administration until declaring independence in February. The U.N. had established ''basic '' human rights laws, which prohibited discrimination against GLBT people. But those laws were often ignored.

After a nine-month stay in D.C., Zuka, who had become familiar with the political asylum process by helping others as the director of Kosovo's equal-rights organization, was finally granted political asylum on Friday, Feb. 29.

''My lawyer called me at 8:30 a.m. -- I was sleeping -- and she said, 'You got asylum!'

''It means [I] can keep living, '' Zuka continues. ''I can apply for a Social Security number, I can get a job, and after a year I can apply for a green card. ''

It's great news for Zuka, who was originally planning to come to the United States for an internship in Rochester, N.Y. Instead he found himself in D.C. at Whitman-Walker Clinic (WWC), where he was referred to a volunteer attorney to handle his case.

Zuka is overcome by his good fortune. ''It was so unexpected that I was going to receive it today, I haven't had time to process all the information as far as what I'm going to do, '' Zuka says, adding, ''I need to find a job. ''

To those seeking political asylum in the United States, Zuka suggests patience.

''Keep the pressure on, '' he says. ''You've got to remind the government that you're waiting, because they have a lot of work. ''