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Sunday, August 16, 2009

London Group Spent £60,000 Last Year to Aid Gay and Transgender Iraqis

£24,000 donated by public, Iraqi LGBT accounts to 31 May shows

Iraqi LGBT, the London-based group that support gay, lesbian and transgender Iraqis, received just over £60,000 in donations in the year to May 2009, the accounts published this morning show.

And in the same period, all but £15 was sent to the Middle East to provide ‘safe houses’ in Iraq and Syria. Currently, the group runs two ‘safe houses’ in Syria and one in Iraq.

Of the donations received, £35,550 came a grants from two organisations, the Heartland Alliance (HA) in Chicago (£11,236) and Hivos (£24,313), a human rights group in the Netherlands that is mainly financed by the Dutch government.

The remaining £24,773 in donations came from individuals.

The costs incurred in the UK of running group was 9 per cent of the total expenditure (almost £5,450, which included £1,340 for special accounting for Hivos).

Largest expenditure was almost £1,400 which was spent on costs of the group’s weekly meetings during the financial year. In a bid to save cash, this has now been reduced to a meeting every two weeks, with a current proposal for the 19-strong group to meet monthly, the report says.

The report highlights the considerable difficulties in transferring cash to Iraq and Syria from the Iraqi LGBT bank account in London.

“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,” the report says.

“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 .”

While there was just £15 surplus at the end of the financial year, Iraqi LGBT is to get an increased contribution from Hivos – this year the Dutch organisation has allocated 50,000 Euros, the report says.

During the last financial year, the group realised that in order for their 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,” the report says . “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.”

Iraqi LGBT is currently in the process of registering as a charity. A previous attempt to get charitable status failed, the report reveals.“When we have previously applied, we were told that our current constitution does not allow us to be registered as a charity as it contained clauses which have a political motive,” the report says.

The report also points out that they are working to register gay Iraqi refugees with The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).