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A. Context of the organization.
Our organization is active in the Middle East and its goals are threefold
Firstly: to protect Iraqi citizens who are, because of their sexuality, in danger of their life inside Iraq; to provide safe houses inside Iraq for these people. We had four safe houses in operation inside Iraq of which two were funded by an international fund provider. At present we have one safe house in operation
Our second aim is to move the people who are in the most dangerous situations to places outside Iraq, to either Turkey, Jordan or Syria. This work has been partly funded by the Heartland Alliance who have provided funds to move and support eight of the 18 refugees.
Our third aim is to register these people with The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and, as a result, relocated to a West European country. The civil war in Iraq and the subsequent rebuilding of the nation has had a pronounced effect on the ability of Iraqi LGBT to conduct our work and meant that security is a paramount concern. Although our refugees are now able to move around more freely, the Iraqi government persecutes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and they are under constant threat of being ‘arrested’ by the security forces of the Ministry of the Interior. Our people can face rape or the death sentence if caught by security forces or militia. People who are 'suspected' are picked up and, for example, their head and their body hair is shaved. This is in order to ridicule them. Video showing this has been distributed by mobile phone.
Outside Iraq, in other Middle East countries, we also have to conduct ourselves clandestinely. For example, in Syria misunderstandings about this has caused unfortunate problems with our involvement with the Heartland Alliance (a Chicago-based group which has helped fund some of our operations). Due to the monitoring of the Syrian intelligence services, a transfer of funds directly from the USA to Syria was picked up. The Syrian intelligence service believes that any US-based group such as Heartland Alliance must be an umbrella organization of the CIA. As a result some of the refugees, residing in Syria, were arrested and one was been deported back to Iraq. If he ended up in the hands of the interior ministry this would have led to his certain death. Through extensive lobbying to certain members of the American Congress and with the help of a local solicitor we prevented this. Due to a meeting between our refugees and the Lebanese gay rights group Helem the Syrian government now having an awareness of our activities. This led to our refugees being closely monitored, something we had desperately tried to avoid. The final process of establishing our refugees in a Western country through the UNHCR is long and slow. B. Internal Organisation
IRAQI LGBT has done a lot of growing up from the start of its existence to its present state. The organization is currently operating as a Non Government Organisation. We are working to register as a charity as this will greatly assist us in contacting interesting parties to make donations and provide other benefits. When we have applied before we were told that our current constitution does not allow us to be registered as a charity as it contains clauses which have a political motive. Our organisation has its head office in the UK and conducts its activities in Iraq , Turkey , Jordan and Syria . It is not viable neither from a strategic nor safety point of view to move our office to the Middle East as the likely arrest of key members would paralyse the workings of our organisation. In September 2008 the then administrator of IRAQI LGBT was killed whilst visiting the Iraqi safe houses. Josh Botham, a Dutch National and accountant, then took over the administration of our work, such as production of accounts and reports and financial management such as funding distribution as well as advising on developing the structure of the organisation.
Iraqi LGBT is currently managed by Ali Hilli and Botham. Hilli is also a board member of the organisation together with another 19 people who meet regularly. All decisions are documented and kept in a log. Initially the members agreed to meet once a week but this has proved to be too costly and too difficult. The members are now meeting once every two weeks and a proposal has been made to make this once a month. C. Results
Partly because of the death of our administrator, as well as the other killings and attacks on safe houses and issues with his own safety resulting from being the only public face for the group, Hilli has been put under considerable strain.
Prior to Botham, Hilli had to administer the group despite having no experience of administration. This included distribution of the funds to the various safe houses and management of projects in conjunction with other organisations. As well Hilli as the contact point was put under considerable strain by the ongoing need and request for funding of the basic needs of the safe houses and of refugees.
After an evaluation of the living conditions, we had to provide additional items and training for refugees which had not been budgeted for. We also did not allow for the increased costs of living in the aftermath of the war. Our previous report made mention of this.
In the management of projects with other organisation not all funds were applied in agreement with the criteria laid out, such as, for example, fund transfer methods. Linking up with other organisation in the region, distributing funds directly to Syria, has created untold problems and has put the safety of the refugees looking to us for help at risk. We do understand that fund providers have their set of guidelines as they too are accountable for the funds they have provided to us. As Botham has taken over much of the administration, including distribution of funds, the group is now better placed to find methods by which the needs of all parties can be met in joint projects.
The group has most of all realised that in order for our activities to survive, the organisational part has to remain secretive. Given the risks and dangers to which our local members are exposed, we must inform them on a need to know basis. We are aware that this has caused confusion but if these local activists know how our whole operation works then they could disclose this to the Iraqi authorities under interrogation. We have learned that there is a lot more to just providing shelter for refugees. There is not just the physical but also the psychological aspects which impact the refugees. It has been just as much a learning curve for us as it is for them. The whole group has gained more knowledge and is better equipped for the future. We have learned that we simply cannot change the ‘world’ ourselves and that we need to rely on outside participators for help with internal and external Iraqi refugees over which we will have no control. For example, we had not anticipated that the process of registering refuges with UNHCR and to re-house them would take this long.
Despite many problems the group has had many achievements: Establishing IRAQI LGBT Members join, develop and vote for a constitution. Opening a bank account for the organization. Recruiting more people to participate in the activities of our organization. Having regular meetings (at first where weekly and then moved to bi weekly) with an agenda and voting where necessary. We have now around 40 members who meet regularly in London. All decision makers have to be Iraqi Nationals. Successfully preventing an Iraqi National from being deported back to Iraq from the United Kingdom.Working with American government officials and Representatives to speak on our behalf to the Iraqi government.
The outgoing American secretary of state spoke on our behalf and we have supported the lobbying of Mrs Clinton to do the same.
Raising awareness of our activities through engagement with journalists from newspapers such as The Guardian and magazines such as Newsweek and media such as the BBC to publicise our cause. Examples are: o o o o o o o Islamist death squads are hunting down gay Iraqi’s [Guardian, Allegra Stratton] Gay Iraqi could face death penalty if deportation goes ahead [Guardian, Peter Tatchell] Don’t ask don’t tell, do kill [Newsweek, Lennox Samuels] The new dark age [Newsweek, Clive Simmonds] Gays in Iraq terrorised by threats, rape, murder [CNN report] The sexual cleansing of Iraq [Documentary film directed by David Grey] Gay Life after Saddam BBC5live [Documentary on Radio directed by Ashley Byrne].
Moving 18 people from Iraq (one was deported back to Iraq) and supporting them in other Middle Eastern countries. Providing medical and psychological care for them. Providing IT equipment to help train them. Registering them with the UNHCR. Locating and supporting four safe houses in Baghdad. Supporting 40 refugees (36 Gay and four lesbian) in safe houses through providing security, food, water, medicine and shelter. We have helped educate these people with short courses in IT and English Two safe houses established with the aid of international fund provider These allowed 20 people to be sheltered from persecution. Financial support for these two safe houses ended in December 2008 and we had to close them down in March 2009. Two safe houses around Baghdad supported with Iraqi LGBT funds. These have provided shelter for another 20 people.Due to a reduction in financial support we currently can only afford to keep one going.
Our plan for the next two years: Open up two more safe houses around the Bagdad area. Iraqi LGBT to become a UK-registered charity. Develop a dedicated website through which interested parties can donate. To have an office. To attend more overseas conferences. To have our own conference through which we can raise awareness of our cause. To produce more leaflets, brochures and leaflets in which we can handout at various meetings, conferences and gay pride festivals. Production of a DVD which can be distributed.
D. Monitoring performance and organisational quality.
We have realised that we sometimes need to trust our local people at face value and when we transfer funds to them, we have to believe that they will distribute these funds to the refugees who rely on this. We have subsequently found out through making certain checks that our local administrator in Syria has not always passed on the funds. This is the same person who has been deported back to Iraq and for whom we put in a significant effort to keep him out the hands of the Iraqi Interior Ministry. As a result of this episode we have decided to pay each refugee in Syria individually to circumvent this problem. We have had no other problems, neither in Iraq , nor Turkey nor Jordan .
Through an internal evaluation we have determined that we need to provide for more than the basic needs for the refugees in the safe houses. We have also come to the conclusion that as the refugees keep asking for more and more support we have to make it clear to them as an organisation what we can and cannot provide for.
As an organisation we have done a tremendous amount of growing up. We are now much better organised and in the next two years we want to build on our achievements and gain more international support. We are now a much more planning organisation that is becoming more pro active rather than reactive. We are planning our marketing and public relations campaigns to create greater awareness and active participation. Through becoming a charity, we are setting up the right vehicle to raise funds. We are developing our own and acquiring our own office - this will help create our own identity. We have developed a proper decision making structure whereby the majority rules. We have prepared our budget for the next two years showing all our requirements. E. Relationship with external parties
We feel that we have had a good relationship with our international fund providers. We have had some communication problems, which are discussed and explained in this report, and we have been forthcoming in resolving these problems. We had a visit from one of their representatives earlier this year and this provided the opportunity to explain in detail the reasons why we have had to sometimes hold back on disclosing certain parts of our operations. Iraqi LGBT looks forward to building this relationship further. We have secured another Euro 50,000 from one of the fund providers which will allow us to open up the 2 safe houses again.