Two years ago, UK Gay News ran the headline “Ashamed To Be British” on an article about how a gay Algerian was treated over an asylum application. Two years on, nothing has changed when it comes to the case of Pegah Emambakhsh, the 40-years-old gay Iranian woman who is languishing in Yarls Wood Detention Centre near Bedford facing deportation – and who knows what when she arrives in Tehran. But it’s a different story in Italy.
While the British media is largely ignoring the plight of Ms. Emambakhsh, the Italian media featured the story widely at the weekend.
The Guardian has been the only major UK newspaper, that we know of, to report on the situation – it published a report from its Rome correspondent John Hooper on Saturday. The local Sheffield Star, where Ms. Emambakhsh has lived for two years, has also been reporting on the case.
In Italy, gay and human rights activists, including the Grouppo EveryOne (EveryOne Group) which is spearheading the campaign, have lobbied their Government – and the British Ambassador to Rome.
The Italian Government is said to have offered Ms. Emambakhsh refuge status, if the Home Office decision for deportation is not reversed and she fails in her ‘last-ditch’ legal appeal.
While welcoming the reported offer by the Italian Government, British activists have pointed out that it would be very unusual to deport someone to any other that the country of origin.
However, Roberto Malini of the Rome-based international human rights Grouppo EveryOne thinks otherwise.
He told UK Gay News today there was provision under the European Convention Refugees, Appendix III (Twenty guidelines on forced return), Chapter II, Guideline 2 (Adoption of the removal order), for failed asylum-seekers to be removed to another ‘third party’ country.
This was adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in May 2005.
“The refugee has the right to chose, even in case of expulsion, the nation where to be transferred as long as that nation fulfils some conditions, specified in the European Convention for Refugees,” he said.
“Our country [Italy], with the proposal that it is going to present to the United Kingdom, completely fulfils the required characteristics described in paragraph 3 of the appendix III of the European convention for the refugees.”
This paragraph reads: “If the state of return is not the state of origin, the removal order should only be issued if the authorities of the host state are satisfied, as far as can reasonably be expected, that the state to which the person is returned will not expel him or her to a third state where he or she would be exposed to a real risk…”
Meanwhile, there is a planned ‘sit-in’ in front of Britain Embassy in Rome (Via XX Settembre, 80 (Porta Pia) tomorrow (Monday) afternoon.
Asylum and gay activists in the UK spent last week on the legal aspects of the case. A strong legal team has been assembled.
Ms. Emambakhsh’s asylum application was said by her supporters to have been denied by the Home Office because she was not able to prove she was a lesbian.
However, Gruppo EveryOne has letters from lesbian women in Iran stating that she is a member of a local – and clandestine – LGBT group.
The Group also says it has a document from the Islamic Republic of Iran saying that Ms. Emambakhsh face a possible death sentence.
These documents were handed over to the British Embassy in Rome on Friday.
Mr. Malini, who was accompanied to the Embassy by Matteo Pegoraro, Dario Picciau and Steed Gamero, says that they were told by an Embassy official that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown “is paying particular attention to the case of the Iranian refugee” and that the British Government is approaching the case with a solution that respects the conventions for the Human Rights”.
Barbara Pollastrini, Italian Minister for Rights and Equal Opportunities has formally associated herself with the Pegah Emambakhsh campaign in Italy.
And her plan to allow asylum in Italy for Ms. Emambakhsh has received backing from a number of politicians. The first to join Ms. Pollastrini were the Minister of Social Solidarity Paul Ferrero, the Minister for the Foreign Affairs Emma Bonino and the Minister of Justice Clemente Mastella who said yesterday that the Government is “fully available” to guarantee refugee status to Ms. Emambakhsh if London deports her..
Also adding weight to the Italian campaign is the Mayor of Venice, Massimo Cacciari who has already found a house for Ms. Emambakhsh. The Mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni, has also said that she would be welcomed in the Italian capital.
Patrizia Sentinelli, the deputy foreign minister of Italy has said that all diplomatic channels between Rome and London have been activated in order to convince London not to deport the woman to the Iranians authorities.
Gruppo EveryOne reports that official support for Ms Emambakhsh is coming from across the political spectrum.
Many politicians have indicated that they intend to take part in tomorrow’s the British Embassy ‘sit-in’ which is being jointly organised by Arcigay, Arcilesbica and Gruppo EveryOne.