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Saturday, 22 May 2010

As a gay asylum seeker, I was lucky

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 28:  Iranian-Americans ...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
Source: The Guardian

By anonymous

Our note: This writer does not explain here why he has chosen to be anonymous but other Iranians have expressed fears for the safety of family in Iran as the regime is known to have arrested and otherwise harassed them as a way of securing silence from exiles. As well, as Kiana Firouz has said, agents of the Iranian state have been known to harass exiles outside Iran.

A while ago, I was granted refugee status in the UK on the basis of my homosexuality and my political activities in Iran. As a person who has shared the same stress of being a gay asylum seeker in the UK with lots of other applicants, I was happy yesterday to hear that the coalition agreement between the Tories and the Lib Dems included a promise to "stop the deportation of asylum seekers who have had to leave particular countries because their sexual orientation or gender identification puts them at proven risk of imprisonment, torture or execution".

Not everybody is as lucky as I was in seeking asylum in the United Kingdom. Within a month after my asylum interview with the Home Office I had the positive decision in my hand, partly because I had a huge international support and also partly because my application was mostly based on my political activities rather than my homosexuality. This is why I was given "the refugee status" rather than "a humanitarian protection". The first one is the strongest but it's the latter that is given to gay asylum seekers in almost all of the cases.

The Home Office's attitude toward gay asylum seekers in the UK has been very controversial in recent years. It is said that the UK protects those homosexuals who have well-founded fear of persecution were they to return to their home countries but arbitrary decisions have been made, too. In regards to Iran, although its notorious record of executing homosexuals is very well documented by international human rights organisations, large numbers of gay Iranian cases have been turned down every year.

Recently, a new report on the treatment of lesbian and gay asylum claims in the UK found that the refusal rate was 90%, compared with 73% for all the claims generally. In two recent Iranian cases, one applicant, known as "J" had to go to appeals court after his claim was refused.

Most surprisingly, the asylum application for Kiana Firouz, a lesbian Iranian actress who has been courageously public about her homosexuality, was turned down. Kiana Firouz is depicted in Cul-de-Sac, a documentary about Iranian lesbians which had its debut in London yesterday. In the film, she says: "In Iran I had to hide my real self and in the UK, I have to prove to the others that I'm lesbian but how can I prove it?"

Of course, it's hard for officials to verify someone's homosexuality, and some have expressed concern that fake claims are likely to be made. But in my opinion the risks to genuine asylum seekers outweighs the potential for abuse.

Back to my case, I again had an exceptional circumstance. I had my partner with me in London and we claimed together. The Home Office interviewed both of us separately at the same time for six hours and finally they had some sort of evidence to investigate and find out whether we have been together in a long relationship or not. We were both asked about the first day we had kissed, whether we used to celebrate Valentine's Day and whether either of us used to keep pets at home. However, most of the asylum seekers in the UK are not accompanied with their partners.

In the case of Iran, overt homosexuality is illegal. Gay Iranians can be lashed, hanged or stoned to death if caught. The law includes a variety of penalties for different acts: 99 lashes if two unrelated males sleep "unnecessarily" under the same blanket – even without any sexual contact. An immature boy raped by an adult man would also be lashed 74 times according to the same law, if the court decided that he had "enjoyed" the experience. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also documented the persecution of homosexuals in Iran.

The Boroumand Foundation, a US-based Iranian human rights organisation, has also recorded 146 executions with charges related to homosexuality since 1979. In 1991, in its reply to inquiries made by a UN special representative, the Iranian government stated that "according to the Islamic Sharia, homosexuals who confess to their acts and insist on [their homosexuality] are condemned to death".

However, since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disgraceful denial of the existence of homosexuals in Iran in his 2007 Columbia University Q&A, the Iranian gay community has won some recognition underground, despite the great danger of execution. The number of gay blogs in Iran has surprisingly increased since then, internet-based gay novels and magazines have been published and recently, an Iranian radio website based in the Netherlands, has launched a special gay forum. Cul-de-Sac The premiere of Cul-de-Sac yesterday was also a remarkable move.

Britain, for a long period, has been appreciated for its tradition of granting asylum to those in danger from the governments of their home counties. It's the right time for the Home Office not only to protect those homosexuals who have well-founded fear of persecution but also to put an end to the detention of the children and families of asylum seekers. The coalition government should immediately fulfil its promises and protect those vulnerable asylum seekers who are in risk of being deported. Most importantly, we shouldn't forget that asylum is a human right.
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