Three safe houses for persecuted gay Iraqis are to close down due to a lack of funds to pay rent and utility bills.

The refuges were set up two years ago by Iraqi LGBT – a London-based gay rights group dedicated to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Iraqis.

The houses are intended to provide a place of safety for Iraqis who have fled homophobic persecution and attempts to kill them by religious fundamentalists and death squads.

“Many of the people we helped have been targeted by the Iraqi police and by Shia militia and other fundamentalist factions. Because of a lack of funds, three safe houses have had to close their doors. This decision will break a lot of hearts, but we have no other choice. We don’t have the financial support to sustain these refuges, said Ali Hili, founder and coordinator of Iraqi LGBT.

Over 30 gay residents who were cared for in these three safe houses will now be on the streets and will have to take their chances in a country where religious militia seek out gays and execute them.

“Several months ago, two lesbians working with Iraqi LGBT were assassinated in the safe house they were running in Najaf, along with a young boy the women had rescued from the sex industry. We feel deserted by the international gay community. Few people seem to care about our fate,” said Hili,

“The world has let us down so badly,” said Sabah, a 29 year old lesbian, who worked as a carer and ran a safe house in the south of Iraq.

“Nowadays, we don’t dare be seen in the neighbourhoods where we used to live. It is too dangerous for anyone known to be gay or to have had a homosexual past,” explained Safa, a gay man in the city of Ammara, where he has been hiding for the last eight months from the police and Shia death squads.

Safa fled his hometown of Najaf because he was known to be gay and feared assassination.

Violence against gays is said to have intensified sharply since late 2005, when Iraq’s leading Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a fatwa, or religious decree, which declared that gays and lesbians should be ‘killed in the worst, most severe way possible.’

“Iraqi LGBT is doing amazing, heroic work,” said Peter Tatchell of the UK-based lgbt organisation, OutRage!

“Its members inside Iraq are taking huge personal risks to protect the victims of homophobic persecution. Their efforts are truly inspirational. I urge the international LGBT community to rally round and raise the funds needed to sustain the remaining two safe houses.” he added.

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