The British government is being urged to "initiate urgent reforms to the asylum system to end the injustice whereby many genuine gay refugees being sent back to viciously homophobic countries like Iran, Uganda, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Jamaica, Belarus and Saudi Arabia."
The call comes from gay human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell of OutRage!
Speaking at a fringe meeting, supported by the GMB union, at the TUC LGBT conference in London last night, Mr Tatchell said said that urgent government action was needed to implement five key policy changes to ensure a fair hearing for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) asylum applicants
“First, asylum staff and adjudicators should receive sexual orientation and transgender awareness training,” he told the meeting.
“They currently receive race and gender training but no training at all on sexual orientation and gender identity issues. As a result, they often make stereotyped assumptions: that a feminine woman can’t be a lesbian or that a masculine man cannot be gay.
“They sometimes rule that someone who has been married must be faking their homosexuality.
“Home Office rulings that LGBT refugees should ‘go home and be discreet’ is insulting, humiliating and puts the returnees at risk of arrest, imprisonment, torture, mob violence and even possible murder,’ he insisted.
“Secondly, the government should issue explicit instructions to all immigration and asylum staff — and to all asylum judges — that homophobic and transphobic persecution are legitimate grounds for granting asylum.
“The government has never done this, which signals to asylum staff and judges that claims by LGBT people are not as worthy as those based on persecution because of a person's ethnicity, gender, politics or faith.
“Thirdly,’ Mr. Tatchell continued, “the official Home Office country information reports — on which judges often rely when ruling on asylum applications — must be upgraded and expanded to reflect the true scale of anti-LGBT persecution.
“At the moment, the government’s documentation of anti-gay and anti-transgender persecution in individual countries is often partial, inaccurate and misleading,” he pointed out.
“It consistently downplays the severity of victimisation suffered by LGBT people in violently homophobic countries like Pakistan, Uganda, Egypt, Nigeria, Iran, Cameroon, Iraq, Zimbabwe, Palestine and Saudi Arabia.
“Fourthly, legal aid funding for asylum claims needs to be substantially increased.
“Existing funding levels are woefully inadequate. This means that most asylum applicants — gay and straight — are unable to prepare an adequate submission at their asylum hearing.
“Their solicitors don’t get paid enough to procure the necessary witness statements, medical reports and other vital corroborative evidence.
“Fifthly, the Home Office needs to issue official instructions to asylum detention centre staff that they have a duty to stamp out anti-gay and anti-trans abuse, threats and violence.
“Many LGBT detainees report suffering homophobic victimisation, and say they fail to receive adequate protection and support from detention centre staff.
“These shortcomings need to be remedied by LGBT awareness training to ensure that detention centre staff take action against homophobic and transphobic perpetrators, and that they are committed to protect LGBT detainees who are being victimised.
“Labour’s claim to be a LGBT-friendly government rings hollow when it continues to fail genuine LGBT refugees,” he suggested.
“We must insist on an asylum system that is fair, just and compassionate – for LGBT refugees and for all refugees.
“These are systemic failings by a callous and indifferent government that is more interested in cutting asylum numbers than in ensuring a fair, just and compassionate asylum system.
‘The UK's harsh, homophobic asylum policy has provoked two suicides by gay Iranians in the last five years.
“In September 2003, Israfil Shiri, a gay Iranian asylum seeker, died after pouring petrol over himself and setting himself on fire in the offices of Refugee Action in Manchester, after his asylum claim was refused.
“In April 2005, 26-year-old Hussein Nasseri shot himself in the head two weeks after his asylum claim was turned down by the Home Office,” Mr Tatchell concluded.