UK ‘breaching UN rules’ on returning gay asylum seekers

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

An Amnesty International report claims that the UK and several other European countries are breaching United Nations rules on returning vulnerable Iraqi asylum seekers.

According to the report, women, ethnic minorities and gays, or those perceived to be gay, are most likely to be at risk of violence and persecution in the country.

More than 100 civilians died in the first week of April.

Amnesty accused the UK, along with several other countries, of forcibly returning “scores” of Iraqis to dangerous areas in the country, breaking international rules.

The report said: “Despite the ongoing violence in Iraq, several European governments continue to forcibly return rejected Iraqi asylum-seekers to Iraq.

“In 2009, the authorities in Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the UK forcibly returned scores of Iraqis to unsafe parts of Iraq, such as central Iraq, in breach of UNHCR guidelines.”

It recommended that all forcible returns should cease and resume only when the security situation in the country has stabilised.

Amnesty said that gay people in Iraq were living under a “constant threat” and that Muslim clerics were making frequent public statements condemning homosexuality.

Homosexuality is not illegal in Iraq but it is frowned upon.

In the first few months of 2009, an estimated 25 men and boys were killed in Baghdad because they were thought to be gay. The killings are thought to have been carried out by militia groups.

In some cases, the report said, there was evidence that members of the security forces and other authorities were encouraging the targeting of people suspected to be gay.

The report added that killers of gay men could find protection under the law, as it offers lenient sentences for those committing crimes with an “honourable motive”.

It said that Iraqi courts were continuing to interpret provisions of Article 128 of the Penal Code as justification for giving “drastically reduced” sentences to defendants who have attacked or killed gay men they are related to if they say that they acted to “wash off the shame”.

UK campaigners have complained in recent years that gay asylum seekers from around the world are being deported by UK authorities on the grounds that they will be safe in their home countries if they are “discreet”.

Ali Hili, the head of London-based Iraqi LGBT, told that the British government was “failing Iraqi lesbians and gays”.

He said: “We welcome the report. We continue to receive reports of killings and now have over 738 documented.

“Within the last fortnight two young gay men were taken by men in police uniforms and their graffitied bodies displayed in one of Baghdad’s main squares.

“We have and will continue to try to get people to safety but the British government must do more. It is wrong to tell Iraqi asylum seekers that it is safe to return if only they are ‘discreet’, which they have done.”

Amnesty International Middle East director Malcolm Smart said: “Iraqis are still living in a climate of fear, seven years after the US-led invasion. The Iraqi authorities could do much more to keep them safe, but over and over they are failing to help the most vulnerable in society.

“The continuing uncertainty as to when a new government will be formed following last month’s election could well contribute to a further increase of violent incidents of which civilians are the main victims.

“The uncertainty is threatening to make a bad situation even worse. Both the Iraqi authorities and the international community must act now to prevent more unnecessary deaths.”

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