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Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Transgender asylum seeker fears persecution in Pakistan

Source: Worthing Herald

The Home Secretary has agreed to reconsider a decision to refuse refuge to an asylum seeker living in south-east London who says he is "a man in a woman's body" and fears persecution in his homeland.

Human rights lawyers believe the case could set a precedent for other transgender applicants from Muslim countries who say they fear ill-treatment because their condition is not understood in the Islamic world.

The Pakistani national, referred to as X, came to the High Court in London on Thursday to challenge a decision last June to deport him. He first claimed asylum in the UK in December 2007.

It was meant to be a day-long hearing, but was dramatically cut short at the outset when Judge Mark Ockelton QC indicated that he had "real difficulty" in understanding why the Home Office immigration authorities were still defending their decision despite the "strong evidence" in the asylum seeker's favour.

After taking further instructions, lawyers representing Home Secretary Alan Johnson conceded that X, who is in his late 30s and lives with a transsexual in south-east London, did have what amounted to a fresh claim for asylum that should be considered.

Later the asylum seeker's solicitor Toufique Hossain, of Lawrence Lupin Solicitors, said: "The claimant has a well-founded fear of persecution as a transgender male if returned to Pakistan. The defendant's acceptance of this case now amounting to a genuine fresh claim is a significant development in the treatment of transgender applicants within the immigration/human rights context.

"It is unfortunate that the Home Secretary only reached this decision with the assistance of the High Court - significant public funds would have been saved if an earlier and sensible decision was made."

In written grounds for his application for judicial review, X's lawyers stated that, although born female, X now considered himself a male, with male emotions. From a young age he felt he was "a boy from the inside" and had enjoyed a lengthy relationship with a woman in Pakistan.

He was "very disturbed" and wanted to undergo a sex change in the UK. He had told specialists: "In my heart, I am a man."

The judge was also told that he had suffered distress whilst held at Yarl's Wood immigration detention centre in an all-female unit.


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