On April 13, Fadi’s mother, sister, youngest brother, and two of his cousins drove him to the airport. As his plane took off, Fadi could see Baghdad fading into the distance. Soon, there was nothing but desert beneath him. He knew that he might never see his home again.
When Fadi landed in the safe Iraqi city, he checked into a hotel, and slept for most of two days. He spent the next several days wandering around, still cautious but somewhat relieved, taking in cafés and shops and even a local amusement park. When the staff at the hotel asked him why he was in town, he said he was there for a journalism course.
Long and Moumneh were set to arrive on April 18, and Fadi was excited and nervous to meet the people who he believed had saved his life. That morning, he bought fresh orange juice and strawberries for them. He waited impatiently outside until they got to the hotel. When he saw a white man and a Western-dressed Arab woman get out of a car on the other side of the road, he rushed up and threw his arms around Moumneh.
Long and Moumneh spent two weeks in the Iraqi city. As men arrived from Baghdad and elsewhere in the country, the two aid workers helped them get settled, interviewed them to verify their stories, made arrangements for travel to the safe city in the nearby country, and set up places for them to stay once they got there. At first, Long and Moumneh didn’t introduce the men to each another so that they wouldn’t attract any more attention than necessary from local security officials, especially since a number of the men were staying in the same hotel. Fadi noticed Sami around the hotel after a few days, but the two men weren’t introduced until some time after. (Nuri had come through and moved on to the next city before Fadi and Sami had arrived.)
For the most part, the Iraqi city was a way station, and the men spent their days waiting. Long and Moumneh provided them with living expenses, and took them to a local site or two, but mainly encouraged them to stay indoors and avoid scrutiny. Sami and Fadi quickly became friends. The two men shared their stories, good and bad, of being gay in Iraq, and Sami became something of an older-brother figure to Fadi.
On April 25, Fadi and Sami left Iraq and flew to the city in the region where they now live. Fadi had been dreaming about visiting this city all his life. From the sky, he recognized some of its landmarks. The two men passed through Immigration, and were met in the arrivals hall by a prearranged contact. That evening, Fadi rushed to one of the city’s gay nightclubs and drank and danced, amazed that he could be open about his sexuality. For the first time, he woke up next to someone in the morning.
“Killing gays is halal,” permissible under Islamic law. “We’ll get points in heaven for it.”
This summer, I visited the city where Fadi and Sami were living. All but three of the 26 men who have escaped the purge with the help of Long, Moumneh, and others were there at the time (Nuri and another man had been placed safely in a European country; a third was living in a Middle Eastern nation). Fadi had adjusted quickly to his new home, and was busing tables in a restaurant. Sami had not yet found work. They all worried about how they were going to support themselves, how long they would be living in this limbo, and whether the local police might arrest them and send them back to Iraq. Some had already been stopped by local authorities. One had been beaten up for making an advance to a man on the street. They all lived in bare-bones apartments with few, if any, of the comforts of home. All were hoping for countries like Australia, Canada, Sweden, or the United States to accept them as permanent refugees. But they worried about how they—gay Iraqi men who don’t, for the most part, speak English and are separated from nearly everyone they love and all they grew up with—would make it in Sydney, Toronto, Stockholm, or New York. Unlike most refugees, the gay Iraqis could not rely on being welcomed by their former countrymen on arrival in their host country. Even in a country where being gay is accepted, they believed, non-gay Iraqis would still be hostile to them. I overheard one man say that should he make it to somewhere safe, he didn’t even want to meet other gay Iraqi refugees already there.
The men had reason to believe they may not be safe anywhere. One young Iraqi, a doctor named Mu’ayyad whom Long had put me in touch with, fled his home about a year and a half ago, without outside help, after a relative told him that his uncles planned to slaughter him in their tribal village to remove the stain they felt he had placed on their family’s reputation. Mu’ayyad escaped to another country, found work in a hospital, and one day caught sight of his uncles in the hospital. They had apparently come all the way from Iraq to kill him. He fled once more. With Long’s help, he is now seeking refugee status in a Western country.