By Zack Jenkins
The Netherlands announced this week that LGBT Iraqis facing deportation would be granted asylum following the publication of a foreign affairs ministry report that sternly criticized the treatment of homosexuals in Iraq.
Gerd Leers, the Dutch Immigration Minister, abruptly changed his position on the issue. In April, Leers told Radio Netherlands that gays and lesbians who face problems in their home countries should “hide their homosexuality… instead of seeking asylum in the Netherlands,” when responding to three asylum appeals cases from LGBT refugees from Senegal, Uganda and Sierra Leone.
In a public statement with Radio Netherlands Monday July 16th, Leers said he recognizes that the situation facing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in Iraq is so serious that they do qualify for asylum in the Netherlands.
Iraqi LGBT is an underground human rights organization based in the United Kingdom that was started in 2005 and is led by Ali, an Iraqi national now living in the UK. According to Ali, religious groups have formed localized militias to specifically target gays and those suspected of immoral sexual activity.
“Prior to the [American] invasion [in 2003], Baghdad was part of a (sic) officially secular society,” Ali wrote on Iraqi LGBT’s website. “Baghdad supported a ‘gay scene’ something like what exists in Beirut now and was therefore a magnet for Arabs from throughout the region. Gays were tolerated and there was not the state action against or that coming from religious groups.”
Iraqi LGBT also reports that the local religious militias are issuing hit lists with names and addresses of suspected LGBT people in various districts, and torturing or murdering sexual minorities.
Koen van Dijk of COC, a Dutch gay rights organization, claims Iraq is perhaps the “most dangerous country in the world for gay people: Research has shown that 750 people have been murdered for this reason since 2003,” though Iraqi LGBT assures the number is much higher (some 100+ since February of 2012 alone). “There are systematic campaigns,” Van Dijk confirmed. “Organized militias publicly declare that they’re hunting down people who exhibit ‘deviant’ behavior and should be killed according to Islamic law.”
In order to receive asylum in the Netherlands, Iraqis facing deportation will face a burden of proof. They must first apply and later prove they are Iraqi nationals, and subsequently that they are homosexual, bisexual or transgender – a somewhat difficult objective to prove without falling into stereotyping or insensitivity.
“People will have to prove something they’ve taught themselves to disguise out of fear for their entire life,” Van Dijk acknowledged. “It will be a very tricky situation and the immigration officials carrying out the interviews will need special training.”
LGBT and human rights organizations viewed the Netherlands’ decision as a step in the right direction and remain optimistic that more nations will join the UK, the United States and other countries that offer asylum to sexual minorities from countries that would seek to put them to death.