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Gay Iraqis win asylum in UK, but process still too tough for most

Refusal of refugee status overturned on appeal

Two gay Iraqi men targetted by homophobic militias have been granted asylum in the UK following an appeal, reports queer rights group OutRage!

According the group, the UK’s Home Office turned down the men’s initial applications for asylum because homophobic persecution is not a valid ground for asylum under the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention.

“Whilst you may face some form of discrimination due to your sexuality throughout Iraq, it is not deemed that this would amount to persecution and indeed certainly not death,” read a letter from the Home Office to one of the men, dated Jun 30, 2006, according to OutRage!

However, OutRage! claims the two men were targets of violent attacks because of their sexuality. They say one of the men had a grenade hurled through his window, and the other was threatened by the Badr militia with execution.

The two men who have been granted asylum are:

  • Ibaa, 30, a former cultural programs officer for the British Council in Baghdad
  • Haider, 29, a doctor at the Al-Nu’man General Hospital, also in Baghdad

(OutRage! did not provide the men’s full names, to protect their families in Iraq from violence.)

“Unlike Haider and Ibaa, the vast majority of gay Iraqis have no chance of fleeing their homeland and gaining refugee status abroad. They don’t have the funds and exiting the country via neighbouring states such as Syria and Jordan is now very difficult. Gay Iraqis are trapped in a society that is sliding fast towards homophobic fundamentalism and theocracy,” says Peter Tatchell, co-founder of OutRage!

Tatchell hopes that more gay and lesbian Iraqis will be encouraged to challenge the Home Office for asylum. But judging from the work and financial resources required to obtain asylum for Ibaa and Haider, it’s not an easy process. While appealing their asylum cases, the two men worked with lawyers, OutRage! and Iraqi LGBT — a queer rights group based in London.

“It is very depressing to think that without a huge support network and lots of hard work to get corroborating evidence from Iraq, both these men would have probably lost their appeals and been deported. The whole asylum system is rigged and biased against genuine refugees — especially gay ones. It is designed to fail as many applicants as possible, in order to meet the government target to cut asylum numbers,” says Peter Tatchell, co-founder of OutRage!

Ali Hili, a gay Iraqi refugee who coordinates Iraqi LGBT, told in July that at least 350 queer Iraqis had been murdered in the past four years. A United Nations human rights report released in January says that attacks against gays and lesbians increased in 2006.

The Iraqi war has made conditions worse for gay and lesbian Iraqis. Some Iraqi queers have called the secular regime of Saddam Hussein a “golden” era when homosexuality was discretely tolerated, according to the Institute For War And Peace Reporting. Now, gays are actively hunted.

“The chaos and lawlessness of post-war Iraq has allowed the Shia fundamentalist militias and death squads of Muqtada al-Sadr and the Badr organisation to flourish. They enforce a savage interpretation of Sharia law, summarily executing people for so-called ‘crimes’ like homosexuality, dancing, adultery, being the wrong kind of Muslim (Sunni, not Shia), listening to western pop music, wearing shorts or jeans, drinking alcohol,” says Tatchell.