The refusal of the UK government to give priority to the asylum application of gay Iraqi any form of priority is hindering the work of Iraqi LGBT, the London-based group that assists gay Iraqis who face persecution – and death – in their country.
Ali Hili, who runs Iraqi LGBT without pay, told UK Gay News this evening that he has had to turn down invitations to speak in the USA as, being an asylum seeker, he has no passport.
He fled Iraq and first applied for asylum in UK which was turned down. But he was given leave to remain in UK almost three years ago.
Mr. Hili revealed that last summer he had been invited to undergo a short speaking tour of USA during the autumn. He said that he had also been forced to turn-down other invitations to speak in other countries.
“But without a passport, I had to decline the invitations,” he said, adding that the speaking tour might well have raised thousands of dollars towards providing help, including safe houses, for threatened gays in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.
Mr. Hili said that the projected US tour six months ago even had the backing of a US congressman.
And tonight, campaigners are demanding action from Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Home Secretary Alan Johnson.
The decision by the Border Agency of the Home Office “directly impacts on harshly persecuted Iraqi lesbians and gays”, his supporters said earlier today in an embargoed press statement.
“The [asylum] application has been outstanding for nearly three years and while it is outstanding, Mr Hili cannot travel,” the statement says.
“As the public leader of the only group representing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people both inside Iraq and in the Diaspora, Hili has received a fatwa from inside Iraq as well as numerous threats in London which have forced him to move. He is under the protection of the Metropolitan Police.”
Mr. Hili is known to have assisted the UK Foreign Office to determine foreign policy about Iraq – and it’s gay community.
The statement goes on to point out that Mr. Hili has “leave to remain in the UK” His solicitor, Barry O'Leary, wrote to the UK Border Agency (UKBA) in August last year that: “he desperately wishes to do this [travel] in order to further the aims of his organisation, that is, supporting lesbians and gay men in Iraq and bringing the world's attention to their plight”.
Six months after the letter was sent, the UKBA told Mr. O‘Leary that the assistance given by Hili to the Foreign Office “does not count”, that the fatwa does not mean that Mr. Hili “falls within the classification of clear and immediate vulnerability” that that the delay in deciding the asylum case (since July 2007) “is not in itself an exceptional circumstance”, and that his case is not “compelling”.
Mr. O’Leary said that he had made UKBA aware of the detriment the nearly three year delay is having on the work of Iraqi LGBT.
“I have also stressed that this will be a straightforward matter, given Mr Hili’s very high profile and the documented risks to his life. Nevertheless they decided to leave him in the queue for a decision. This can only harm LGBT individuals in Iraq.”
Mr. Hili says in the statement that it is extremely distressing that the British government is refusing to allow me to take up the many offers to speak on behalf of the lesbians and gays in our organisation.
“I have been the only person who has willingly identified themselves as a gay Iraqi and this has made me a target. But the British government doesn't take this seriously.
“Why are they undermining the work of our group?
Why does the Foreign Office say it supports lesbians and gays around the world yet the Home Office does this to me,” he asks?
Foreign Office Minister Chris Bryant, himself openly gay, wrote in his blog on Feb. 24: “I know some people dismiss LGBT rights as something of a sideshow in international relations, but I am proud to say that the [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] has argued for a decade that human rights are a seamless garment”.
The Foreign Office Human Rights Report for 2009, published last week, specifically names Iraqi LGBT over other NGOs as a key source of information. Mr. Hili has met with them numerous times. The report quotes Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell condemning persecution of LGBT in Iraq.
Mr. Hili’s supporters said that they would be taking the campaign to get his case decided to both the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary.
Numerous human rights organisations and journalists have documented the pogrom against lesbians and gays in Iraq. Iraqi LGBT estimates that over 700 LGBT have been assassinated over the past few years. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has advised ‘favourable consideration’ for asylum claims because of the situation.
“It was Ali Hili of Iraqi LGBT who first alerted the world to the organised killing of LGBT people in Iraq - way back in 2005,” internationally renowned human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has said. “For a long time, he was a lone voice.”
“Soon afterwards, he exposed the death fatwa against LGBT people issued by Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
“Mr Hili was also the person who set up the ‘underground railroad’ and safe houses inside Iraq, to give refuge to LGBT people on the run from Islamist death squads and to provide escape routes to neighbouring countries – which saved the lives of many Iraqi LGBTs.
“It is wonderful that Time Magazine, CNN and the New York Times have now reported the terrorisation of our LGBT sisters and brothers in Iraq, and that Human Rights Watch and other human rights organisations have since produced some very powerful and valuable reports on the subject,” Mr. Tatchell continued.
“While I would not wish to detract one iota from the contributions of others, it is important to show due generosity and humility by acknowledging that it was Ali Hili and Iraqi LGBT who first bought this issue to public consciousness.
“They deserve our gratitude,” he insisted.