Tuesday, 21 November 2006

Labour has lost its heart and soul

Source: guardian.co.uk

By Peter Tatchell

A 20-year-old Nigerian asylum seeker, Emmanuel Obahiaghbon, was deported two weeks ago, on the orders of the immigration minister, Liam Byrne. He was unable to get legal representation. His fresh claim, based on new evidence, was arbitrarily dismissed by the Home Office without any judicial hearing.

This is the routine fate of thousands of asylum claimants under a Labour government. Due process of law is subverted. Objective, impartial consideration of their evidence by an asylum tribunal is often voided.

The Home Office acts as police, prosecutor, judge and jury. Justice is non-existent for many asylum claimants. See here and here.

Sure, there are some bogus asylum seekers. They should be removed. But I know, from my firsthand experience helping asylum claimants, that many people who are dismissed as frauds by the Home Office are, in fact, genuine refugees. They have fled terrible persecution, but in the government's panic to cut the number of people granted asylum, they are mistakenly (and perhaps sometimes maliciously) declared to be "failed" asylum applicants and scheduled for deportation.

Emmanuel Obahiaghbon was genuine. He claimed asylum on the grounds of persecution because of his homosexuality. But his sexuality is not the key point. The way he was abused by the asylum process is typical of the fate of thousands of refugees fleeing many different forms of persecution - ethnic, political, religious, gender and sexual orientation.

Emmanuel had been beaten up many times for being gay and gang-raped twice. When he tried to report the assaults to the police, he was threatened and abused. A psychiatrist visited him in detention in the UK and confirmed he had symptoms of trauma consistent with having suffered physical and sexual violence.

At the end of November, Emmanuel was sent a copy of a Nigerian police warrant for his arrest on charges of homosexuality, and a Nigerian solicitor's letter stating that he had also been reported to the sharia courts and was likely to be sentenced to death by stoning (his region of Nigeria is subject to Islamic sharia law, which stipulates the death penalty for gay sex).

The Home Office dismissed these new documents as fakes. I have no way of knowing for sure whether they were genuine. What I found reprehensible is that Liam Byrne's officials refused Emmanuel an opportunity to present the new evidence to an asylum tribunal and to get the documents independently assessed.

Because Emmanuel had no solicitor, he appointed two of us from the gay human rights group OutRage! as his legal representatives. Acting on his behalf, my colleague Jill Power and I asked the immigration minister to suspend Emmanuel's deportation, in order to allow him time to find a new solicitor, make a fresh asylum claim based on the new evidence, and to get corroboration that the police warrant and solicitor's letter were genuine. This request was rejected by Liam Byrne, without any proper hearing.

The deportation of Emmanuel is typical of the routine abuse of asylum applicants by the Home Office.

He was given no chance to prove the genuineness of his new evidence. They bundled him onto a plane as fast as they could, to stop him from challenging their arbitrary dismissal of his letters from the Nigerian police and solicitor.

Emmanuel faces an uncertain fate back in Nigeria. He is on the run and in hiding. After maintaining contact with us for the first week after he was deported, suddenly all communication has stopped. We fear for his safety. If the police, Sharia courts or gay-bashers don't get him, perhaps he'll just give up hope and kill himself.

Male homosexuality is totally illegal in Nigeria. It is punishable by 14 years jail under criminal law and, in the Muslim regions, by stoning to death. Gay-bashing attacks are commonplace. As Emmanuel discovered, the Nigerian police are unwilling and unable to protect the victims of homophobic violence. Sometimes, the police are the perpetrators.

The persecution of lesbian and gay Nigerians is about to get much worse. Nigerian MPs are expected to shortly pass a new law that will outlaw gay organisations, meetings of gay people, gay safer sex advice and the advocacy of gay human rights.

Despite this perilous situation, Emmanuel's asylum claim was deemed by the Home Office to be unfounded. He was forced onto a plane by government-contracted security guards and deported back to Nigeria.

Labour claims to support gay human rights, but we see little evidence of this support in the cruel way gay asylum seekers are treated by the Home Office.

Labour ministers could stop these abuses, but they don't. They are personally responsible for deporting lesbians and gays who have presented evidence of being beaten up, jailed, tortured and raped. A lesbian victim of rape and torture was recently deported to Uganda. A gay Iranian who is at high risk of execution is scheduled for deportation on Boxing Day.

Labour has lost its heart and soul. It seems more interested in pandering to the anti-asylum hysteria of the Sun and the Daily Mail, than in ensuring justice for refugees. Whether gay or straight, all refugees deserve a fairer, more compassionate consideration of their claims.
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