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Exclusive: Campaigner says delay in asylum claims is ‘killing gay Iraqis’

Jessica Geen March 23, 2010
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A gay Iraqi asylum seeker whose application has been stuck in the system for three years has complained that the delay is harming LGBT people in the country.

Ali Hili arrived in Britain in 2002 and set up Iraqi LGBT in 2005. The group organises safe houses and ways out of Iraq for gay citizens who are in danger.

As an asylum seeker whose application is pending, Mr Hili cannot travel, which he claims is severely damaging his group’s work.

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’s first application for asylum was turned down but he was granted leave to remain and submitted another application in 2007, which is still being processed.

He says he has been invited to speak in a number of countries about oppression of LGBT Iraqis, which would raise awareness of the issue and help the organisation grow and raise more funds.

His lawyer Barry O’Leary wrote to the UK Border Agency (UKBA) in August 2009 to say that his client “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”.

In a reply given six months later, the UKBA said that his case was “not compelling” and that the delay was “not in itself an exceptional circumstance”.

Mr Hili said: “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.”

Mr O’Leary said: “I have made [the UK Border Agency] 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.”

When asked by whether other members of Iraqi LGBT could make speeches abroad to highlight the issue, Mr Hili said that the majority of asylum seekers in his group were also barred from travelling while their applications were being processed.

Only one, he said, is able to travel, but is too frightened to show his face publicly.

Mr Hili said: “It is minimising our work. We have been trying hard to recruit members but we are unable to.

“We have to tell what is happening and not just over the internet. The main problem is that we cannot promote the group if we are limited and prisoners like this.

“The long waiting is killing people.”

Mr Hili said he had had to move house before and was under the protection of the Metropolitan Police after a series of attempted break ins at his previous home.

There is also a fatwa (death sentence) hanging over him and his real name is kept secret.

However, he said he believed he would be safe giving speeches in Western countries such as the US and Spain, where he has been invited to speak.

Mr Hili said that he knew of some cases where asylum seekers had waited seven or eight years to have their applications resolved and pleaded with the Home Office to respond quickly.

LGBT asylum campaigner Paul Canning, who is a supporter of Mr Hili, said: “If Ali is not deserving of expediency in decision making I don’t know who is.

“The government should be 100 per cent behind the work of Iraqi LGBT, indeed they are quite willing to accept their help and advice at the Foreign Office.

“But they treat Ali, and through him Iraqi lesbians and gays, like dirt who don’t deserve our protection and support. It is completely outrageous.”

A UK Border Agency spokesperson said: “The UK has in place comprehensive arrangements for providing protection to those who need it, in accordance with our international obligations. We consider asylum applications on their individual merits.

“While an asylum application is being considered the applicant is unable to travel outside the UK.”

More: Middle East

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