By Paul Canning
It often shocks people to hear this but talk to Iraqi gays who've made it out and they'll tell you – life was better under Saddam.
Baghdad played the role that Beirut does now as a sanctuary for Middle Eastern gay life with clubs which men from the Gulf and Saudi Arabia flocked to.
In sharp contrast, for the past six years Iraq has been the worst place in the entire world to be gay. Far, far worse than Uganda or even Iran. Hundreds of gays, lesbians and trans people have been hunted down and killed in the most vile ways imaginable – and imagination is the right word. Doctors have confirmed reports of men have had their anuses glued shut by militia forces and others have accused the government of being involved.
No one has been prosecuted and the Iraqi government has failed to do anything to stop it. So Iraqi gays have helped themselves. They have created safe houses, although many have been discovered and become a new killing field.
Many have fled but they have faced a cold wall of indifference and they have needed friends and luck to actually make it to sanctuary.
Our government, the British government, has turned its back on those who have arrived here. All have initially been refused asylum. The system instead has told them that Iraq is safe and they should go home.
I am not making this up. Faceless bureaucrats in Alan Johnson's department (and Jacqui Smith's and John Reid's before him) have had the front to write "Iraq is safe" on gay asylum letters.
Why? How? Because they can. Because no one, no gay MP, no LGBT group, no one has pressured them, forced them, to do otherwise.
It gets worse. Because of an "unfit for purpose" system, their claims take years to resolve, wasting untold amounts of taxpayers' money as other bureaucrats and Johnson's hired gun lawyers fight them to the bitter end despite the mountain of evidence that Iraq is a deathzone for gays.
In the meantime they survive on handouts as they're not allowed to work. They are stressed out in ways those of us lucky enough to be born in the 'west' cannot begin to imagine, fearing that Johnson's agents will pick them up and put them on a plane to Baghdad.
Of course there are people helping Iraqi gays who make it here, though they are few. Most of all Iraqi gays are helping themselves.
Chief amongst them is Ali Hili, the leader of organised group Iraqi LGBT. It is he who first brought the world's attention to the pogrom against gays in Iraq. He has had the balls to be the public face and has paid the price in death threats and a fatwa against him.
But he is stuck in what John Reid described as an "unfit" system. This incredibly brave gay leader is just another number and the failure to grant him asylum is affecting the ability of Iraqi gays to draw the world's attention to their plight.
He cannot go visit the US Congress. He cannot visit the European parliament. In both places there are Very Important People, those who can practically help, who want to hear firsthand of the situation.
He has already told the Foreign Office. This other branch of the same government, whose gay minister Chris Bryant proudly touts its work on supporting gays around the world. The Foreign Office is extremely keen to take Ali's evidence, write it up in their Human Rights Report and use that to sell the caring-and-sharing face of the UK government, especially to gay voters.
So when you read the letter from some minion in the UK Border Agency saying that his case is not "compelling", that his case cannot be expedited so he can go visit Washington and New York and Brussels, what do you think? Does it make you angry?
Yes? Do something. Ask your MP – you can find them on this website theyworkforyou.com/ – to ask the Home Secretary Alan Johnson to intervene.
Johnson can do it. Remember Mehdi Kazemi? The young gay Iranian who Jacqui Smith insisted could be safely sent back despite all the evidence including the execution of Mehdi's teenage boyfriend? Well, she intervened and Mehdi is now safe. But it took an enormous effort to make that happen so – please – don't just read this and be angry. Write your MP, write Johnson and the Prime Minister. Tell everyone you know what's going on and ask them to do something as well.
The Ali campaign can be found here http://bit.ly/alihili