Updated to add: Only one of the couple has been formally informed by the Swedish Migration Board that following the European court ruling they will not be removed.
We reported last week that Swedish authorities had refused asylum to an Iraqi Kurdish lesbian couple, Pari and Dilsa (pictured right from a Swedish TV News report).
At the weekend news came through that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in an expedited appeal had told Sweden that they should not be removed to the Kurdish north of Iraq.
Sweden has already removed over 500 Iraqis this year, as have other EU countries including the UK. This is in defiance of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and despite a refusal by Kurdish authorities to allow direct flights to Irbil or Kirkut as well as media reports of maltreatment on arrival of refugees at Baghdad airport.
The ECHR ruled last month that removals to Iraq should be stopped because of decreasing security but legally (under 'rule 39') individuals had to go to them to get individual removals suspended. It agreed to look quickly at over 400 petitions from Iraqis in Sweden, including the Kurdish lesbian couples.
Rulings stopping removals, however, have not always been strictly observed by EU national governments. The court can only request they be stopped.
This means that the couple are not safe because Swedish authorities believe it is safe to return them, their removal has only been stayed and it remains unclear whether Sweden will defy the ECHR or the court's ruling will expire. UNHCR believes that new flights are being organised.
Their lawyer, Simon Andersson, tells LGBT Asylum News that:
Neither the decision from Migraitonsverket nor the Migrations court is very well motivated.It is common as we reported on Sunday, looking at a new report on the state of LGBT Asylum in the EU, for countries to hold that LGBT asylum seekers can 'tolerate' living repressed lives amidst fear of discovery and therefore it is safe to return them. It was this approach which the British Supreme Court overturned in July.
It was not questioned that they were in fact lesbian, but the migrations office (and the migrations court) considered the situation in [Northern Iraq] (the Kurdish areas) to be safe, as long as one lived discrete there.
However, despite denials, evidence from Iraq shows that honour killings in the Kurdish North are common, may be increasing, and the couple are under specific threat.
Pari's family is powerful and connected to the government. When she refused to be married off to a relative and confessed that she loved a woman death sentences were issued by her clan. Dilsa says her brother has already been murdered for helping her to flee. No 'discretion' will save them.
A 2009 Amnesty International report “Trapped by Violence: Women in Iraq” said there has been a marked increase in violence against women perceived to have shamed their families.
State protection is unlikely as those committing crimes with an “honourable motive” are treated more leniently in Iraqi law, according to an April report by Amnesty. Iraqi courts interpret provisions of Article 128 of the Penal Code as justification for giving “drastically reduced” sentences to defendants who have attacked or killed LGBT they are related to if they say that they acted to “wash off the shame”.
Amnesty in April said that LGBT people in Iraq - including Kurdistan - were living under a “constant threat” and that Muslim clerics were making frequent public statements condemning homosexuality. Human Rights Watch has said that Iraqi security forces have targeted gays and lesbians.
How you can support Pari and Dilsa
Pari and Dilsa's lawyer is urging concerned people to write to the Swedish Migration Board at firstname.lastname@example.org quoting their case file numbers: 10817385 and 10907415.
Foreign supporters can also contact their local Swedish Embassy.