Liberal Democrat President and Shadow Attorney General, Simon Hughes MP, joined today’s protest outside the Home Office in London in support of gay asylum seekers who have fled homophobic persecution in countries like Pakistan, Uganda, Sudan, Cameroon, Jamaica, Iran, Belarus, Algeria, Iraq, Nigeria and Egypt.
The protest was the main UK event to mark the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), 17 May, which is being observed in 50 countries worldwide.
Mr Hughes told the protesters in London that IDAHO was a “very important” initiative to challenge global homophobia. e criticised the Home Office’s handling of gay and lesbian asylum claims.
“The Refugee Convention does not specifically mention sexuality and therefore we have to make a case to the Home Office for the granting of refugee status on the grounds of sexual orientation.
“I want the Home Office to endorse the idea that lesbians and gay men are a legitimate social group at risk of persecution in many countries.
“It is a shame that 70 years after the Nazi persecution of gay people, there is still no proper recognition of those persecuted on the basis of their sexuality,” said Mr Hughes.
Mr Hughes pledged to work with gay campaigners to raise with the Home Office the mistreatment of lesbian and gay asylum applicants, and to help remedy the Home Office’s five failings on gay asylum that were highlighted by today’s protest:
■ No training on sexual orientation issues for asylum staff and adjudicators
■ No official policy supporting the right of refugees to claim asylum on the grounds of sexual orientation
■ No action to stamp out the abuse of gay refugees in UK asylum detention camps
■ No accurate, up-to-date information on the victimisation of gay people in violently homophobic countries
■ No adequate access to proper legal representation for gay asylum applicants
Another speaker at the London IDAHO protest was gay Iraqi refugee, Ali Hili, who is the OutRage! Middle East Affairs spokesman and the coordinator of Iraqi LGBT UK, a group of gay Iraqi exiles who are setting up an underground gay rights network inside Iraq.
“The Home office must address the plight of gay Iraqi refugees who are fleeing rising levels of fundamentalist-inspired homophobic violence,” Mr. Hili said. “These murders of gay people are perpetrated by the Shia militias of the Badr and Sadr factions, as well as by men in Iraqi police uniforms.”
“Since the Iraqi government is failing to protect its gay citizens, the Home Office has a duty to be more sympathetic to the plight of gay Iraqi asylum applicants,” Mr Hili commented.
Derek Lennard of the Gay & Lesbian Humanist Association, who is the UK coordinator of IDAHO, added: “On this International Day Against Homophobia, we express support for gay people in other countries who are suffering arrest, imprisonment, torture, rape and murder.
“We call on the UK government to offer refuge to the victims of homophobic persecution, “ he said.
Research by OutRage!, based on its work with lesbian and gay asylum claimants, shows that the Home Office is failing gay asylum seekers.
“The Home Office does not explicitly accept persecution on the grounds of sexual orientation as a legitimate basis for gaining asylum,” said Brett Lock of OutRage!, who is currently documenting a major expose of homophobic bias in the asylum system.
“Low legal aid funding means most gay asylum applicants fail because they have sub-standard representation at their asylum hearings. The Home Office information on homophobic persecution around the globe is poorly researched and often downplays the true scale of anti-gay victimisation.
“No wonder so many gay asylum applicants are deemed to have failed and are scheduled for deportation.
“The shocking stories of homophobic abuse and inhumane conditions inside the UK's asylum detention centres are a national scandal,” said Mr Lock.