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Where Is Justice And Equality For LGBT Asylum Seekers In The UK?

Aderonke Apata copySeeking asylum is not a crime but a fundamental human right as enshrined in the United Nations Human Rights Convention 1951 Charter (UNHCR) that guarantees the rights of every individual everywhere.

Gradually, this basic human right to safety is becoming elusive to anyone fleeing persecution of any sort that qualifies them as a refugee under the UN Convention the world over. More worrying is the systematic approach of the United Kingdom in shirking her responsibility towards this human right Charter that she’s a signatory to!

In over 77 countries around the world which Africa is the most in number, being a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) is a criminal offence punishable by life imprisonment, whereas it carries death penalty in some, such as in some part of Nigeria.

 It is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law, in these homophobic countries, LGBTs are not able to get state protections against persecutions that they suffer as a result of whom they love and subsequently flee their countries in search of sanctuary to countries such as the UK.

Abundantly and sadly so are the layers of discriminations and persecutions that LGBT asylum seekers face in the UK. There is a culture of disbelief by the Home Office interviewers; this is seen in the rate of LGBT asylum applications’ refusal of over 93%; this is higher than the overall refusal of all other asylum application claims. Over half of refused claims are granted in the appeal court afterwards.

Indiscriminate indefinite detention of asylum seekers is on the rise in the UK which means people are further subjected to torture. The routine use of the Detained Fast Track (DFT) which seeks to determine outcomes of cases within 2 weeks whilst people are kept in detention centres and expected to provide evidences in support of their claims is commonly applied in LGBT asylum applications. Most individuals claiming sanctuary due to their sexual orientation have at one time or the other been incarcerated in their country of origin by agents of state and or non state agents when outed. The DFT is a ploy to deport as many people as quickly as possible.

Missing the Mark, a report that was published by the UKLGIG in October 2013 analysed in details the quality of decision-making in LGBTI asylum claims including various challenges such as inappropriate and sometimes humiliating questions and many barriers in ‘proving’ their sexuality due to an artificially high standard of proof LGBT people continue to experience.

LGBT asylum seekers are further subjected to a barrage of psychological, mental, emotional, physical  and institutional abuse. The UK Border Agency filled with underbelly Government’s tactics to meeting its immigration targets and caps was widely reported to have been asking LGBT asylum seekers intrusive and insidious questions about their sexual behaviours and not their sexual orientation.

An article published in the Observer newspaper on 9 February 2014 which quoted some very sexually explicit questions that had been asked in an asylum interview raised the dust. Followed by this incredible Channel 4 report. The commissioning of a review of The Home Office’s handling of sexual orientation asylum claims by The Home Secretary in March 2014 was announced. The Home Secretary stated the system was flawed.

An online petition was launched following this announcement which generated over 300,000 signatures Urging The Secretary of State to halt all deportations of LGBT asylum seekers pending the review. It is worth noting however, that since the petition signatures were delivered to the Government, no LGBT asylum seeker has been reported to have been deported; although there has been a case or two of threatened deportations but never resulted in eventual deportation.

The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine CBE QPM conducted the investigation and published its findings in October 2014. The Chief Inspector, amongst other things found that:

Over a tenth of interviews did contain questions of an unsatisfactory nature“.

I found some stereotyping of applicants in about a fifth of substantive interviews“.

The following, were some of the recommendations to the Home Office for improvement made by the Chief Inspector:

1. Improves training so that stereotyping and stereotypical expectations of LGB activity and

lifestyle do not appear in interview questions.

2. Ensures that caseworkers do not ask sexually explicit questions, and equips them with the

interviewing skills to cope professionally when sexually explicit responses are received.

3. Provides more detail about the DSSH model in its training for caseworkers so that it can contribute to the quality of interviewing.

The Difference, Stigma, Shame and Harm model put together to the United Nations by the 2014 Legal aid Barrister of the Year, S Chelvan. Details of the findings and recommendations can be found here.

I welcome the report of The Chief Inspector, however there are still questions to be answered around what happens to all of the previous LGBT asylum seekers’ applications that were decided during the flawed system?

The level of injustices faced by LGBT asylum seekers in the UK cannot be quantified. Peter Tatchell, the Director of The Peter Tatchell Foundation highlighted it all here when he was speaking on the UK government abuse of LGBTI refugees fleeing persecution at Leicester Secular Society on 26 October 2014.

Similarly Paul Dillane, the Executive Director of UKLGIG couldn’t have said enough when he  recently warns at an interview, Going Underground: LGBTI discrimination that LGBTI people face discrimination at the hands of government and courts.

Of utmost and immediate concern is the undocumented and unreported Domestic Violence experiences and challenges that LGBTI asylum seekers and immigrants face in the hands of their partners. As a result of the pressure and burden of proof on them to ‘prove’ their sexuality to the Home Office in order to secure sanctuary in the UK, they are forced to endure all forms of domesticated abuse and violence that could be imagined. The undocumented are scared to come forward and report to police for fear of being picked up and deported back to their countries. Likewise those that are in the process of their asylum application; which could last as much as over one year to determine are stuck in such oppressive and abusive relationships for fear of not having a partner to ‘prove’ their sexuality. The work of Broken Rainbow UK, the LGBT Domestic Violence Charity to encompass LGBT asylum seekers and immigrants couldn’t be coming at a better time.

Aderonke Apata

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