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Comment: Labour is shunning gay Iraqis, asylum seekers

Paul Canning April 27, 2010
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As he launched Labour’s international LGBT manifesto last Wednesday, foreign secretary David Miliband made one howler, echoed by another in the manifesto’s text.

He said: “Under Labour the UK will continue to be a beacon of hope for LGBT people.”

This delusion sounded a lot like Home Office minister Phil Woolas’ article last year, when he wrote that he was proud of the attendees of the London Pride march who’d found sanctuary in the UK – never mind that his office would have refused them and fought tooth-and-nail to remove them.

The pair should form a double act.

An Amnesty International report released today said that gays in Iraq have no protection from the state and are allegedly even being targeted by some security forces. Yet Miliband’s ‘beacon’ government would tell those seeking our sanctuary they could safely return and be “discreet”.

Recent research from the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group on 50 refused asylum cases found that many were told to go home and not act gay.

Laugh? Cry? There is no “discreet” in Iraq – they will come and they will find you and they will torture you and display your body. For women “discreet” means you must marry and suffer rape for the rest of your life.

Furthermore, Labour’s gay group LGBT Labour has nothing to say on asylum, despite the group passing a resolution at its AGM last year that it would “explore with the Home Office and Borders and Immigration agency” such items as no longer telling people to “go home and be discreet”.

Labour’s gay manifesto has nothing to say on the matter, presumably because the “explorations” came to nowt.

Elsewhere, the document says that the UK has “campaigned in the UN for the decriminalisation of homosexuality”.

Now this has been part of a shopping list of Labour’s great deeds for LGBT for some time. Previously, LGBT Labour’s website claimed that the party “launched” the campaign but this has now mysteriously disappeared.

It certainly didn’t lead. The origins of the UN resolution lie in the work of Louis George Tin, the French International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) founder who launched a worldwide campaign to end the criminalisation of same-sex relationships in 2006. He worked with then French foreign and human rights minister Rama Yade to get it to the UN. The British tagged on later. Google it.

I’ve exchanged emails with Louis George on the Labour claim. Shall we just say he’s “bemused”?

It’s also de rigeur here for them to say “only Labour” will continue to support UN work. I guess it was written before the rise of the LibDems who appear to be a good decade ahead of Labour on LGBT issues.

Having knocked it there’s one good thing to say about Labour’s gay manifesto. It does promise to “always raise matters of LGBT rights in countries where there is systematic violence or harassment”, naming Russia, Uganda, Iran and Jamaica.

Of course we won’t offer asylum or accept refugees but this is progress. It’s certainly progress on Miliband’s own Foreign Office human rights report, issued in February, which barely mentions LGBT issues anywhere outside Europe. It also somehow misses their sterling work in the Commonwealth, but, in future, sez the manifesto, they’ll be a “relentless champion”.

One country is missing in that list: Iraq.

Let’s be clear, Labour created this modern-day pogrom. Saddam wasn’t systematically hunting people down because they were lesbian, gay or transgender. That started after the invasion.

Since then, none of the governments responsible have done anything about it bar a few diplomatic words. Right now there is a pogrom going on in southern Iraq, the area formerly controlled by Britain: the legacy of the Labour government’s rule there.

Perhaps I shouldn’t pick out just Labour LGBT for pretending that this isn’t happening, hoping the stench in the corner will be quietly ignored. The Labour government may be legally responsible but they’re not the only ones ignoring it (so, given realpolitik, Labour LGBT’s hope may be quite justified). The LGBT ‘community’ internationally has a case to answer.

Neither is it the responsibility of LGBT alone to help rescue Iraqi gays, but for those who claim to care about our brothers and sisters in other countries (including those who seek votes on that basis) it is shameful how they are turning their backs on Iraqis.

They are focusing, like the American Jews of the 1930s and 40s, solely on our own selfish interests.

LGBT Ugandans have been discussing what to do should the ‘kill-the-gays’ bill pass, where to flee. Some Americans have talked about pressuring the US State Department to help rescue them.

And the UK? How would we help those from our former colony, to whom we bequeathed sodomy laws? Referring back to that list of countries this manifesto says are experiencing “systematic violence or harassment”, how has the Labour government helped fleeing Jamaicans? Or Iranians?

Jewish people know all about rescue. We could learn something from their history. They have a litany called an Al Chet which they use during Yom Kippur. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik wrote this one about how Jews escaping Germany weren’t helped by fellow Jews who looked firstly after their own interests:

“Al chet shechatanu lefanecha bera’inu tzoras nafshoseihem shel acheinu bais yisroel shehischananu eileinu v’lo shamanu” [for the sin that we have sinned before you by seeing the suffering of our Jewish brethren who called to us and we did not listen].

They are calling, and we need to start listening.

Paul Canning is a gay rights activist and the webmaster for LGBT Asylum News.

Related topics: General Election 2010, Middle East

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