January 11, 2016 at 8:00 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Slovenian newspaper honors gay man for refugee work
Slovenia, gay news, Washington Blade

Jure Poglajen, right, greets Slovenian President Borut Pahor, in Ljubljana, Slovenia, on Jan. 4, 2016. Delo, the country’s most popular newspaper, honored Poglajen as one of its person of the year for 2015 for his work with refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos. (Photo courtesy of Jure Poglajen)

Slovenia’s largest newspaper has named as its person of the year for 2015 a gay dentist who works with refugees.

Delo on Jan. 4 honored Jure Poglajen during a ceremony in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana. President Borut Pahor and the newspaper’s publisher were among those who attended the event.

Poglajen and his partner of more than four years traveled to the Greek island of Lesbos last August on what they previously described to the Washington Blade as a “normal vacation.”

The two men spent two weeks providing food, water and clothing to the hundreds of refugees from Syria, Iraq and other countries who were crossing the narrow Mytilini Strait from Turkey to Lesbos.

Poglajen and his partner, who live in the town of Brezice near the Croatian border, returned to Lesbos last fall with Adra Slovenia, a Protestant relief group that is raising funds to assist refugees who continue to flood into Europe. The two men also offered assistance to those who entered Slovenia from Croatia after Hungary closed its border with Serbia.

Poglajen campaigned in support of the country’s same-sex marriage law that went before voters last month in a referendum. Preliminary results indicate that Slovenians by a 63-37 percent margin rejected the statute.

One million migrants entered Europe last year

The International Organization for Migration notes that slightly more than one million migrants entered Europe by boat in 2015, including 845,852 who arrived in Greece. The organization indicates 3,771 people either died or went missing last year while crossing the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas.

The International Organization for Migration also notes the majority of the migrants who arrived in Greece in 2015 were from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

“These people must be helped, they’ve come for freedom, to be able to live normally,” Poglajen told Delo after the newspaper honored him. “They didn’t come here to take our jobs, they didn’t come to occupy Slovenia, Europe or anyone else.”

Delo honored Poglajen against the backdrop of the continued exodus of Syrians from their war-torn country.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees notes there were more than 4.5 million registered Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and other countries as of Dec. 31. Many of these people have fled from areas under the control of the Islamic State — also known as Daesh — and other Islamic militant groups that target LGBT Syrians and other vulnerable groups.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a series of terrorist attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 that left 130 people dead and more than 300 others injured. The Sunni militant group also took credit for two suicide bombings in the Lebanese capital of Beirut the day before that left more than 40 people dead.

Members of Congress a few days later passed a bill that would suspend the resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the U.S. Three out members of the U.S. House of Representatives — U.S. Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) — voted for the measure.

Jure Poglajen, Syria, refugee crisis, gay news, Washington Blade

Jure Poglajen, right, with a Syrian family who arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos in August 2015. (Photo courtesy of Jure Poglajen)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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