By Jessica Geen
Aid group Iraqi LGBT is to hold a fundraising night in central London next week.
The group is celebrating five years of supporting persecuted LGBT Iraqis and claims to have helped save the lives of 100 people.
The event will be held on Tuesday 26 October at Chloe in South Kensington. Gay celebrities Julian Bennett and Brian Dowling are supporting the evening, while a raffle and auction prizes will be offered.
Iraqi LGBT founder Ali Hili told PinkNews.co.uk that funds and awareness were needed to continue the group’s work in organising safe houses and ways out of Iraq for gay citizens who are in danger.
Iraq does not explicitly criminalise homosexuality but the country is a dangerous place for gays and lesbians.
A Human Rights Watch report in August suggested that hundreds of gay men in the country have been attacked and killed for their sexual orientation since 2004. The report claimed that members of militia groups are leading the anti-gay campaign.
Mr Hili said: “Since we established the group five years ago, we have saved the lives of over 100 people – we have relocated them from Iraq, we have removed them to safer countries [such as] the US, Germany, France and the UK.
“We’ve been working with the UN and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to update us with what’s going on on the ground. They are very helpful, very supportive.”
The group has also worked with politicians in the UK and US to raise awareness of the problems LGBT in Iraq face.
Iraqi LGBT has supporters across the world but has only six volunteers in the UK. Of these, only one has won asylum, meaning he is able to travel between to Iraq to help LGBT people.
The asylum claims of Mr Hili (who arrived in the UK in 2002) and the other four volunteers remain in the asylum system. “We cannot travel, we cannot be there,” he said.
Instead, an underground LGBT network operates in Iraq to help those at risk get to safe houses or seek asylum abroad.
Iraqi LGBT is receiving funding from Netherlands-based group Hivos, but its other problem, Mr Hili says, is that it has not yet been recognised by the Charity Commission.
He said: “They said we have a political nature because we call to change the Iraqi Constitution to protect LGBT rights in our constitution. It is considered interference in political process. We have amended that.”
Mr Hili added that Iraqi LGBT was submitting documents to the commission in the hope of being recognised as a charity.
He could not say how much the charity night might raise but spoke about the group’s plans for the next few years.
After attaining charity status, the group aims to build a network of LGBT supporters in Iraq’s neighbouring countries, as well as in the country itself.
Supporters in Iraq also hope to focus on issues such as health and work for change on the inside.
Mr Hili said: “To say you are gay and Iraqi is a big step to do. But those inside are the courageous ones, they are doing most of the work.
“We are working in a deadly, dangerous environment. This event is to highlight, to bring awareness, to open the world’s eyes to what is going on in Iraq.”
For more details about the charity night, click here