Two gay victims of attempted assassinations by Shia Islamist death squads in Iraq have been granted asylum in the UK, says gay rights activist Peter Tatchell.

Ibaa, aged 30, worked as a cultural programmes officer for the British Council in Baghdad. Haider, 29 years old, was a doctor at the Al-Nu’man General Hospital, also in Baghdad. He had lived briefly in England as a young boy, when his parents were students at Sussex University.

Both men had their initial applications for asylum turned down by Britain’s Home Office, despite apparently compelling evidence of homophobic persecution and threats to kill them. But with the support of the gay human rights groups OutRage! and Iraqi LGBT they have appealed against the refusal of asylum and won.

According to Tatchell, Ibaa’s and Haider’s full names cannot be revealed to protect their families and friends in Iraq against the threat of violent retribution by Islamist death squads. “Ibaa’s and Haider’s successful appeals show that gay people who have suffered persecution can win asylum, despite all the obstacles placed in their way by the Home Office,” said Tatchell, who is head of OutRage!.

Ibaa now wants to do Arabic-English translation work. Haider already has a new job as a hospital doctor in Scotland. He plans to eventually qualify as a General Practitioner.

“I want to thank everyone who helped me,” said Ibaa. “No words can express how relieved and grateful I feel. All the years of fear are over,” he said. “When I heard that I had won my appeal, I cried,” confided Haider. “I was very, very happy. The terrible past was over. This is an opportunity to start my life all over again. I feel like a new person. Before, in Iraq, I was very scared and had no life. While I waited for my appeal hearing, I was always afraid that I would be deported.”

“We worked with Ali Hili of the Iraqi LGBT group and with the men’s solicitors, Barry O’Leary and Sara Changkee. Our joint efforts secured this positive outcome. I hope it will encourage more gay and lesbian Iraqis to challenge Home Office refusals and win their appeals. The whole asylum system is rigged and biased against genuine refugees – especially gay ones. It is designed to fail as many applicants as possible, in order to meet the government target to cut asylum numbers,” said Tatchell.

The Home Office grounds for initially refusing asylum to Ibaa in 2006 included the often repeated claim that it does not recognise homophobic persecution as a legitimate and valid grounds for asylum under the 1951 Refugee Convention: “You claim that you would be persecuted if you were to return to Iraq because you are a homosexual. However, homosexuality in Iraq does not form a social group within the terms of the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees,” wrote the Home Office in their official letter of refusal to Ibaa, dated 30 June 2006.

The Home Office also ruled in the same letter: “It would not be unduly harsh to expect you to relocate to the Northern area of Iraq, where Shia militia are not prominent… Whilst you may face some form of discrimination due to your sexuality throughout Iraq, it is not deemed that this would amount to persecution and indeed certainly not death… it has been concluded that you have not established a well-founded fear of persecution and that you do not qualify for asylum.”

Haider experienced similar grounds for refusal. “The Home Office told me that I could relocate myself to a different part of the country and give up being a doctor,” he recalls. “Doctors, lecturers and other professional people are targeted by the Islamist militias and al-Qaida terrorists. Educated people are seen as a threat to their bid to rule the country. I was really disappointed, frustrated and scared that I might be deported,” admitted Haider.

Ali Hili, founder and coordinator of the human rights group, Iraqi LGBT, who is now based in London, says: “We have assisted around 40 gay Iraqi asylum seekers in the UK and also in Sweden, United States, Germany, Canada, Holland, Lithuania, Romania, Turkey, Syria, Jordan and the Lebanon.”

“The threats and violence against Ibaa and Haider are typical of the persecution of lesbians and gay men in occupied Iraq,” said Tatchell. “The murder of gays is encouraged by Iraq’s leading Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. In 2005, he issued a fatwa ordering the execution of gay Iraqis in the worst, most severe way possible. His followers in the Islamist militias are now systematically targeting lesbian and gay people for extra-judicial execution,” he added.

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