Sunday, 12 October 2008

Homosexuality ban 'no reason for asylum'

The head of the UK Border Agency has enraged human rights groups after stating that gay asylum seekers should not be allowed to stay in Britain simply because their sexual orientation is outlawed in the country they have fled.

Lin Homer, chief executive of the Home Office agency responsible for applying Britain's asylum policies and enforcing border controls, told The Scotsman that a ban on homosexuality in a home country is not in itself a reason not to deport asylum seekers who fear persecution because they are gay.

After speaking at a conference in Glasgow organised by Scottish Refugee Council, Ms Homer said judges consider the "practical consequences" for homosexuals if they are returned, not a country's societal or legal approach to homosexuality.

Last week, The Scotsman revealed how Jojo Yakob, a young Syrian man who claims he was tortured for being gay, fears for his life after a Scottish judge threw out his appeal against a deportation order.

His case raised concern from equality campaigners that Britain is sending people to countries where they face persecution because of their sexual orientation.

Yesterday, Ms Homer defended the approach taken by her agency and the court, insisting the information about countries of origin used to make these decisions is as comprehensive, and transparent, as possible.

"What the court takes into account is the practical consequences for the individuals concerned," she said.

"The simple presence of either a law or a culture that frowns upon homosexuality is not of itself a reason (to grant asylum]."

She added: "I think these decisions are made carefully and thoughtfully."

Ms Homer's admission that Britain will not offer protection to homosexuals because of legal prohibitions alone was branded "astonishing" by Nico Juetten, policy manager with LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Youth Scotland.

Countries which outlaw homosexuality include many Middle Eastern and African states.

In Syria, homosexuality is regarded as a "disease" which needs to be treated. Reports from the country claim that dozens of homosexuals are imprisoned after being arrested on vague charges such as abusing social values.

It is claimed that within Syrian law, killing a homosexual can eliminate family shame – which means the perpetrator faces a much shorter jail sentence.

Mr Juetten said: "Lin Homer was talking about country of origin information. It's good to have transparent information, but sometimes that information is wanting. It may be that homosexuality, for example, is tolerated in one part of the country, but not in another.

"The problem also is judges often say something along the lines of 'you'll probably be fine as long as you keep a low profile'.

"But if someone has fled the country because of their homosexuality, they are going to be closely monitored when they are returned."

John Wilkes, chief executive of Scottish Refugee Council, said: "This is inconsistent and muddied thinking. If there was a law in a country that said you cannot be Jewish or a member of the Communist Party, would the UK government send them back to that country to be prosecuted?

"To say someone should not be able to express themselves free from persecution is contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights and the Refugee Convention."

Source: Scotsman


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