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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 20 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 29
Netherlands OKs asylum for LGBT Iraqis
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Netherlands OKs asylum for LGBT Iraqis

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

In a reversal of policy, the government of the Netherlands announced on July 16 that it would grant asylum to LGBT immigrants from Iraq.

Dutch Immigration Minister Geert Leers said Iraq is no longer a safe place for LGBT people, and the Iraqi government has failed to take measures to protect them. Leers had temporarily halted deportations of LGBT Iraqis in June following an alert issued by the Dutch Foreign Ministry.

The Foreign Ministry report was highly critical of the treatment of LGBT people in Iraq, saying that in some areas of the country they are deliberately targeted by armed militias.

Koen van Dijk of the Dutch Gay rights organization COC said the announcement was an important victory for Iraqis who had fled the country because of their sexual orientation. According to van Dijk, Iraq is the most dangerous country in the world for LGBT people.

'Research has shown that 750 people have been murdered for this reason since 2003,' he said.

'There are systematic campaigns. Organized militias publicly declare that they're hunting down people who exhibit 'deviant' behavior and should be killed according to Islamic law.'

Under new immigration rules announced by Leers, people who claim asylum on the grounds of sexual orientation must prove they are LGBT before asylum will be granted. Van Dijk said it remains unclear how refugees' sexual orientation will be confirmed, and he predicted that the new rules would lead to difficulties.

'[E]specially because people will have to prove something they've taught themselves to disguise out of fear for their entire life,' he said. 'It will be a very tricky situation and the immigration officials carrying out the interviews will need special training.'

In March, the Dutch parliament had asked Leers to investigate the situation of LGBT residents of Iraq, following a series of reports about the murder of Gays.

In April, Leers touched off a huge controversy when he told three African asylum applicants to, in effect, go home and stay in the closet. The men - from Senegal, Uganda, and Sierra Leone - had applied for asylum on the grounds that they faced serious threats to their safety in their own countries.

Leers told them they should return, 'be extremely circumspect in [their] behavior,' and 'hide [their] homosexuality.'

The three appealed to the Dutch Supreme Court, which halted deportation proceedings. The case is now pending before the European Court in Luxembourg.

Under U.S. law, people may qualify for asylum if they can demonstrate past persecution or a well-founded fear of future persecution based on membership in a particular social group. In 1994, the scope of the law was expanded to specifically include LGBT people.

LGBT people applying for asylum in the U.S. must also prove their sexual orientation and must demonstrate actual persecution, or the risk thereof, because of it. For example, applicants may present affidavits from same-sex partners, or police and medical reports of abuse.

Legal experts say meeting the burden of proof may be difficult for people from places like Saudi Arabia or Iran where same-sex relations are punishable by death, because it is dangerous to be openly Gay or report an anti-Gay hate crime. It can be equally difficult for applicants from Western countries that are believed to be sexually tolerant.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services received about 38,000 asylum applications between October 2009 and September 2010, but the agency does not track how many cite being LGBT as a reason.

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