HM Ambassador Ric Todd raising the rainbow flag over the British Embassy building on Aleje Ujazdowskie, Warsaw on 6 June.
Commentary from UK Gay News
Gay men and women seeking refuge in UK still get rough deal as Rainbow Flag flies on embassies
Over the past week, the UK Government has earned itself considerable praise world-wide after flying ‘Rainbow Flags’ on two embassies in Eastern Europe during Gay Prides in Latvia and Poland.
Yet while the two flags were proudly flying on embassies in Riga and Warsaw, there are gay men and women who are seeking sanctuary in the United Kingdom, having fled their countries under threat of execution or lengthy imprisonment because of their sexuality.
And they are not being given a fair and compassionate hearing.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, headed by David Miliband, should be commended on its work in the LGBT rights field overseas. It’s recently-publish guidelines made a refreshing change.
But while the FCO takes justifiable praise, the Home Office remains, in those immortal words uttered by a Home Secretary of a couple of years ago, “not fit for purpose” when it comes to considering applications for refuge from gay men and women.
Thanks to campaigners, and considerable publicity on his case in the Scotland on Sunday newspaper, nineteen year old gay Syrian Jojo Jako Yakobv has had his “day in court” (an immigration appeals tribunal) and has been released from a young offenders centre on orders from the tribunal.
But what was Jojo doing in a young offenders centre in the first place? What “offence” has he committed?
While it is still not certain that he will be granted refuge in the UK, things are looking far more hopeful that they were a month ago.
But for Ugandan lesbian Prossy Kakooza, things are not so good.
She arrived in the UK in July last year, having fled her country after being severely beaten and burned by police purely on the grounds of her sexuality. In addition she was repeatedly raped while in custody.
Such were her injuries that when she sought medical help on arrival in UK doctors were so shocked at the extent of her injuries that the police were called.
Prossy left behind a girlfriend who is still believed to be in detention in Uganda.
The Home Office accepts that Prossy was brutally raped and burned. Yet they want to deport her back to Uganda, saying that she can settle in another town.
But a phone call to the FCO would probably tell the Home Office that there is little freedom of movement in Uganda, as we enjoy in Europe, and that a person wishing to relocate needs what amounts to a “reference” from one’s home town or village.
Meanwhile, Prossy, a 26 year old university educated Ugandan lesbian, lives in fear of deportation, via Yarl’s Wood, to Kampala.
The Metropolitan Community Church in Manchester has started a campaign “Prossy Must Stay”, and her story, and how you can help, can be read HERE.
The Home Office certainly needs to answer some questions. Do they ever consult the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about situations in “problem countries” when it comes to matters of sexuality? Do they even read the “situation reports” published by such respected human rights groups as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch?
From judgements and reasons given for deportation to gay and lesbian refugee applicants – not to mention a statement in the House of Lords by a Home Office Minister a few months ago, it would seem doubtful.
UK Gay News has actually heard an immigration appeal tribunal in Birmingham tell a gay Iranian, who fled his country when the ‘religious police’ knocked on the door of his home to arrest him, that he should be returned to Iran where he could make an “application to the British Embassy in the usual way”.
And in another case involving an Iranian, a tribunal questioned the discrepancy in dates on an application and accompanying paperwork, refusing to believe that the calendar used is not the same as used in the West. Application was refused.
There might be very good reason why some applications from refugees are turned down. And it is accepted that this can be a very emotive subject.
But from where UK Gay News stands, it looks as though the Home Office is making decisions, sometimes literally life or death, to hit deportation targets, which in turn pleases the UK tabloids.
At the end of the day, the UK is not ruled by the largely xenophobic and anti-gay tabloid press.
The government should return to the traditional “British way” of compassion based on fairness and forget the emotive and ‘anti’ language of the tabloids.
One can but hope that the lead taken by David Miliband at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is noted – and acted upon – by Jacqui Smith at the Home Office.