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Sunday, 11 April 2010

David Cameron answers our question on LGBT asylum

Rt Hon David Cameron MP speaking at the Conser...Image via Wikipedia
By Paul Canning

The UK Conservative party opposition leader has answered a question on LGBT asylum posed by LGBT Asylum News Editor Paul Canning.

The question draws on differences in answers given by the main party leaders to Johann Haari, who conducted a series of interviews in January for the gay magazine Attitude.

In his interview with Cameron, Haari posed the same question he asked Prime Minister Gordon Brown about the Home Office policy of saying that LGBT can return (to countries like Iran or Saudi Arabia) and 'be discrete'.

Haari professed surprise at Cameron's response to his LGBT asylum question ("he is at his best and at his clearest – to my surprise") and quotes him as "unequivocally" saying in response to 'whether it is wrong that gay refugees are told to go back home and hide their sexuality from police forces who would imprison, torture or kill them for it': "I think it is. If you have a legitimate fear of persecution, that it seems to me that is a perfectly legitimate reason to stay."

This was in contrast to the bureaucratic fudge of PM Brown in his reply to the same question. LibDem leader Nick Clegg restated his party's longstanding criticism of the UK's asylum system to Haari. He describes it as “a moral stain on our collective consciousnesses" and "the most inhumane, irrational, cruel system imaginable”.

In his answers to questions posed by readers of pinknews.co.uk Cameron said the following to Canning's question (our highlight):
Q. If there is unfairness in the asylum system against LGBT people (as you suggested in your Attitude interview) what do you plan to do about that?

A: As I said in the interview, this does have to be looked at on a case by case basis, but if you are fleeing persecution and that fear is well-founded, then you should be able to stay. As things stand, the 1951 Refugee Convention doesn't mention sexuality but because it mentions membership of a social group, that phrase is being use by the courts, rightly in my view, to say that if someone has a realistic fear of persecution they should be allowed to stay. It's also important that the guidance the Home Office produces for asylum adjudicators to use in judging claims provides up-to-date and accurate information on homophobic persecution in every country.

Although Cameron does not actually answer the question - he doesn't say what he will do about 'unfairness in the asylum system' - the new comment on the information used by UK Border Agency staff known as country-of-origin information (COI) is interesting as it does suggest that someone in his office has done their homework.

As several reports have found, COI reports on persecution in individual countries is partial, inaccurate and misleading as well as out of date. It often conflicts with the Foreign Office assessment of the risks to UK LGBT citizens visiting the same country as well as information in the Foreign Office Human Rights Report.

Only last month a new report from the Immigration Advisory Service (IAS) said that the supposedly independent Advisory Panel on Country Information (APCI) was subject to "undue influence" by the Home Office that "compromised its independence and the transparency of its work". The APCI's "lack of teeth" meant that it was unable "to ensure its recommendations were implemented in full".

Sheona York, Principal Legal Officer, IAS, said:
“This report demonstrates the continuing need for vigilance from those representing asylum-seekers to ensure that the country evidence on which UKBA decision-makers rely is accurate, unbiased and sourced. Too many clients lose their cases because the UKBA treats as gospel some remark by some unnamed source, or relies on information taken out of context. Now we should ensure that the same critical spotlight shines on the UKBA’s internal Operational Guidance Notes.”
pinknews.co.uk has secured a similar opportunity with PM Brown and LGBT Asylum News has submitted the following question:
Do you recognise that there is unfairness in the asylum system for LGBT and if so what do you propose to do to tackle it?
LGBT Asylum News has also provided an opportunity to all LGBT party groups, plus the Scottish National Party, to submit contributions to the website to be published unedited by May 4.
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