Monday, 29 March 2010

How the United Kingdom is Hurting LGBT Rights in Iraq

Photo credit: Jayel Aheram

By Michael A. Jones

In recent years, Iraq has become one of the most dangerous places in the world for LGBT people. In the wake of the U.S. invasion and the toppling of Saddam Hussein, scores of LGBT people have been systematically beaten, tortured and murdered in Iraq in what human rights organizations describe as one of the worst anti-gay pograms in the world.

One organization, the U.K.-based "Iraqi LGBT," has become one of the leading global LGBT groups working to help LGBT people escape violence in Iraq. Their leader, Ali Hili, is considered the founder of an "underground railroad" system that helps LGBT people in Iraq leave the country through a network of safe houses. Some activists, including the U.K.'s Peter Tatchell, say that Hili is responsible for bringing anti-gay violence in Iraq to the world's attention.

Yet, for a man who has helped LGBT people seek refuge from brutal thugs, the UK government is not doing Hili any favors. Three years ago, Hili applied for asylum in the UK. Today, his application is still caught up in major government bureaucracy, and now it's having a dramatic impact on Hili's ability to keep Iraqi LGBT operating at full speed.

Concerned about violence in Iraq? If you are, send the UK government and Home secretary Alan Johnson a message that they need to prioritize the asylum application of Ali Hili. Yes, in some cases the phrase "a matter of life and death" is tossed about cavalierly. This is not one of them. Iraqi LGBT is literally saving people from anti-gay death squads. And each day that Hili's application remains caught up in government hiccups, it makes that work all the more harder.

Perhaps the biggest issue here is that until Hili is given asylum, he can't travel. And that's quite the problem when your job is to raise global awareness about anti-gay violence in Iraq. Hili has been asked to speak all over the world, yet each time a request comes in, he has to decline because the U.K. government hasn't acted on his asylum claim.

Instead, Hili has been given rather offensive answers from the U.K.'s Border Agency. Hili has been told that his case just isn't that compelling.

Excuse me, but maybe the U.K. government could give a definition of compelling. Because if Hili's life -- literally running an underground network for persecuted people to escape a violent country -- isn't compelling, then what the hell is?

The real kicker in all of this is that while the U.K. government won't throw Hili a bone regarding his asylum status, they are all too happy to use the information documented by Iraqi LGBT. So they are literally giving credence to Iraqi LGBT's work, and yet telling the founder of the organization that he just needs to deal with government slowness.

As Paul Canning wrote in Pink News last week, that's just unacceptable.
"[Hili] cannot go visit the U.S. 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 [in Iraq]," Canning writes.
While the U.K. government twiddles their thumbs, LGBT people are being targeted in Iraq. Simply put, rather than operate a bureaucracy that runs like molasses, the U.K. government ought to be bending over backwards to make sure that Hili and Iraqi LGBT are able to do their important work. This is a matter of life and death.

Urge the UK Home Secretary to get his act in order, and expedite Hili's request for asylum. Hili's been waiting for three years. How many more years will he have to wait, and how many more LGBT people in Iraq will suffer because of the barriers imposed by the U.K. government on Hili's organization?

Michael Jones is a Editor. He has worked in the field of human rights communications for a decade, most recently for Harvard Law School.


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