(UK) - Two Iraqi Gays have been granted asylum in the UK, in a court ruling overturning a previous decision of British authorities to deport them. The two men have survived attempted assassinations by Shia Islamist death squads in Iraq and were seeking refuge in United Kingdom, but their initial applications for asylum had been turned down by the Home Office, despite compelling evidence of anti-Gay persecution and threats to kill them. With the support of the Gay human rights groups OutRage! and Iraqi LGBT both men appealed against the refusal of asylum and won.
Ibaa, aged 30, worked as a cultural programmes officer for the British Council in Baghdad. Haider, 29 years old, was a doctor at the Al-Nu’man General Hospital, also in Baghdad. He had lived briefly in England as a young boy, when his parents were students at Sussex University.
Ibaa now wants to do Arabic-English translation work. Haider already has a new job as a hospital doctor in Scotland. He plans to eventually qualify as a General Practitioner.
“I want to thank everyone who helped me,” said Ibaa. “No words can express how relieved and grateful I feel. All the years of fear are over,” he said.
“When I heard that I had won my appeal, I cried,” confided Haider. “I was very, very happy. The terrible past was over. This is an opportunity to start my life all over again. I feel like a new person. Before, in Iraq, I was very scared and had no life. While I waited for my appeal hearing, I was always afraid that I would be deported.
“To show my gratitude to this country for giving me protection, which I did not get in my own country, I will be a good citizen and make a positive contribution to society by serving my patients well and helping in the local community,” added Haider.
Ibaa’s and Haider’s full names are withheld to protect their families and friends in Iraq against the threat of violent retribution by Islamist death squads.
“Ibaa’s and Haider’s successful appeals show that Gay people who have suffered persecution can win asylum, despite all the obstacles placed in their way by the Home Office,” said Peter Tatchell of the Gay human rights group OutRage!, which advised and supported the two men.
“We worked with Ali Hili of the Iraqi LGBT group and with the men’s solicitors, Barry O’Leary and Sara Changkee. Our joint efforts secured this positive outcome. I hope it will encourage more Gay and lesbian Iraqis to challenge Home Office refusals and win their appeals.
“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,” said Mr Tatchell.
The reasons moving the Home Office initially to deny asylum to Ibaa in 2006 included the often repeated claim that it does not recognise homophobic persecution as a legitimate and valid grounds for asylum under the 1951 Refugee Convention:
“You claim that you would be persecuted if you were to return to Iraq because you are a homosexual. However, homosexuality in Iraq does not form a social group within the terms of the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees,” wrote the Home Office in their official letter of refusal to Ibaa, dated 30 June 2006.
The Home Office also claimed that while Iraqi terrorists do kill people who work for foreign organisations like the British Council, since Ibaa was no longer employed by the British Council he would not be at risk of execution if he was sent back to Iraq.
“It is not believed that you would be of any adverse interest to the anti-coalition terrorists, if returned to Iraq, due to your previous employment,” stated the Home Office in their letter of 30 June 2006.
The Home Office also ruled in the same letter: “It would not be unduly harsh to expect you to relocate to the Northern area of Iraq, where Shia militia are not prominent…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..,.it has been concluded that you have not established a well-founded fear of persecution and that you do not qualify for asylum.”
Haider experienced similar grounds for refusal. “The Home Office told me that I could relocate myself to a different part of the country and give up being a doctor,” he recalls.
“Doctors, lecturers and other professional people are targeted by the Islamist militias and al-Qaida terrorists. Educated people are seen as a threat to their bid to rule the country.
“I was really disappointed, frustrated and scared that I might be deported,” admitted Haider.
“The threats and violence against Ibaa and Haider are typical of the persecution of lesbians and Gay men in occupied Iraq,” said Peter Tatchell of the Gay human rights group OutRage!.
“Both men used to lead happy, successful professional lives. Since the US and UK invasion, their lives have been turned upside down. 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, selling Hollywood movie videos, having a fashionable haircut and, in the case of women, walking in the street unveiled or unaccompanied by a male relative.
“In this witch-hunting, homophobic atmosphere, Ibaa and Haider came to the attention of the death squads. Both men were in their late 20s and unmarried. They were seen often in the company of other men. This circumstantial evidence, plus local gossip, was enough to get them targeted as sodomites.
“Ibaa had written denunciations and a grenade hurled through his windows. Haider was threatened by the Badr militia with execution. Killers came looking for him at his house and hospital. He had to hide for three days in the female doctors’ quarters. His partner Ali was kidnapped, tortured and murdered in April 2004 by men suspected of belonging to the Badr militia.
“Both Ibaa and Haider eventually won their asylum appeals. Many Iraqi asylum seekers - Gay and straight - are not so lucky. Their claims are rejected. They face deportation back to Iraq, which puts them at great risk of murder.
“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,” said Mr Tatchell.
Ali Hili, founder and coordinator of the human rights group, Iraqi LGBT, who is now based in London, says:
“We have assisted around 40 Gay Iraqi asylum seekers in the UK and also in Sweden, United States, Germany, Canada, Holland, Lithuania, Romania, Turkey, Syria, Jordan and the Lebanon.
“Our group helps new arrivals understand the asylum process and their legal rights. We give them advice on how best to prepare their case, find them solicitors, provide translations for their supporting documents, draft expert evidence corroborating the existence of homophobic persecution in Iraq, assist them with finding accommodation, make phone calls on their behalf and help them sign on for welfare support,” said Mr Hili.
“The murder of Gays is encouraged by Iraq’s leading Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani,” added Mr Tatchell.
“In 2005, he issued a fatwa ordering the execution of Gay Iraqis in the worst, most severe way possible. His followers in the Islamist militias are now systematically targeting lesbian and Gay people for extra-judicial execution.
“Two militias are doing most of the killing. They are the armed wings of major parties in the Bush and Brown-backed Iraqi government. The Madhi Army is the militia of Muqtada al-Sadr, and the Badr organisation is the militia of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq - the leading political force in Baghdad’s ruling coalition. Despite their differences, both militias want to establish a homophobic Iranian-style religious dictatorship,” concluded Mr Tatchell.