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Local church provides sanctuary for student seeking asylum

Published: Apr. 24, 2019 at 6:49 PM EDT
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A church in North Central Florida is providing sanctuary to a man they say could face death if he were to return to his native country.

25-year-old Saoud Al-Ammari no longer has a valid F-1 student visa and fears returning to Qatar out of fear that he will be in danger because of his sexual orientation.

"It's really a terrifying experience but I have amazing people around me and it makes it less terrifying," stated Al-Ammari.

Westminster Presbyterian Church in Gainesville and other organizations in North Central Florida are joining forces to create a safe environment for immigrants seeking asylum.

"Gainesville has this capacity to welcome. It has the capacity to be a place for all, we also have our struggles. Our community is racially segregated but I think that in Gainesville there is a drive to be better," stated Liz Ibarrola, Director of Immigration Concern for Human Rights Coalition of Alachua County.

Al-Ammari didn't want to say how long he's been at the sanctuary but says that it has exceeded his expectations.

"Everything I need is provided and sometimes not just needs but wants. They're basically telling me, 'what you want, what you need, we're trying to make you feel safe', and its been really great I did not expect the sanctuary to be like this," stated Al-Ammari.

Al-Ammari says that going against his culture has been the biggest challenge thus far.

"Going against a culture, I'm doing everything my culture is against. I've never gone against my culture forever and I feel like that even though everyone is telling me that its the right thing to do I still feel like I'm hurting somebody doing this process and that is not my intention at all," stated Al-Ammari.

Community members along with the church are now looking to get support from city and county officials to extend their efforts in order to be able to help others in similar situations.

"It's really a terrifying experience but I have amazing people around me and it makes it less terrifying."

"Gainesville has this capacity to welcome. It has the capacity to be a place for all, we also have our struggles. Our community is racially segregated but I think that in Gainesville there is a drive to be better,"

"Everything I need is provided and sometimes not just needs but wants. They're basically telling me, 'what you want, what you need, we're trying to make you feel safe', and its been really great I did not expect the sanctuary to be like this,"

"Going against a culture, I'm doing everything my culture is against. I've never went against my culture forever and I feel like that even though everyone is telling me that its the right thing to do I still feel like Im hurting somebody doing this process and that is not my intention at all,"