Friday, 21 May 2010

Press statement: Welcome for Coalition's attention to LGBT asylum

Nick Clegg arrives in Downing StreetImage by The Prime Minister's Office via Flickr
In a joint statement Refugee Action, the Refugee Council and LGBT Asylum News have welcomed the Coalition government's agreement's brief mention of LGBT asylum and hope it will be developed in a way that will lead to meaningful change in the way these cases are dealt with.

The Coalition agreement says (page 18):

"We will 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."

Jill Roberts, Chief Executive of Refugee Action, said:

"We welcome the inclusion of this statement in the  government's agreement. We look forward to hearing more of the detail of these plans in the near future."

Sarah Cutler, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at the Refugee Council said:

"It is about time that refugees fleeing their countries because of persecution over their sexuality are acknowledged as being legitimately in need of safety here, in line with those fleeing other human rights abuses."

"It is not enough however to say they will not be deported. We would like to see a firm commitment to offering full refugee status to anyone who cannot be removed."

Paul Canning, Editor of LGBT Asylum News, said:

"Asylum seekers who can prove they are at risk are not being deported now. The problem is proving it and the Home Office's resistance as was demonstrated in the UKLGIG report 'Failing The Grade'. It examined fifty refusal letters in sexual orientation cases and practically all were being rejected. In the recent case of a Ugandan lesbian won in the High Court the Home Office is continuing to argue that she is not at risk despite over 300 pages of evidence showing that she is."

Through qualitative analysis of those refusal letters, 'Failing The Grade' demonstrated that UK Border Agency staff lack essential training and access to appropriate guidance on dealing with sexual orientation claims.

"This agreement's wording doesn't actually change the situation of LGBT asylum seekers unless it is followed through with a clear program of action," said Canning.

"The previous government, for example, argued that they did not have a policy of 'telling people to go home and be discreet'. The wording of those refusal letters proved this was not the case. Is the new Home Secretary going to work with non-government organisations to ensure that genuine cases get through?"

The UNHCR released a Guidance Note on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity last November which says that if the state forces people to be 'discreet' that's a violation of human rights.
Another issue is the poor state of 'country of origin' information on which UK Border Agency officers are making decisions. Prime Minister David Cameron said during the election in response to questioning by Canning:

"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."

Canning said:
"A person should not be forced to be discreet and hide legitimate feelings because of a state's refusal to protect them. Returning a person to such a situation is a violation of their human rights."

"A Saudi lesbian asylum seeker who, because of years of oppression in Saudi Arabia, is not yet able to, does not want to and could not be open with her family about her sexuality, should not be told "if you kept quiet about it before, you can go back and do so again". A Jamaican lesbian should not be told to move to a new area, where her mode of behaviour and dress may somehow be thought to be more socially acceptable."

"Cases such as those of the Ugandan John Bosco and Azerbaijani Babi Badalov have shown that risk of arrest, imprisonment, torture, rape, mob violence, 'honour' killing and state executions as well as - more significantly - non-state action actually forces LGBT returnees into hiding. Having to go into hiding is, of course, in truth an extreme form of "discretion." In both cases, the victim is forced to disguise him or herself, to avoid revealing his identity."

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell who, with OutRage!, has worked on many LGBT asylum cases over the past ten years said:

"This commitment to give refuge to LGBT people who have suffered persecution is welcome but it must be backed up with detailed policy changes to make it effective."

"Asylum judges and Home Office barristers should be given advice and guidelines on how to treat LGBT refugees with sensitivity and fairness. Currently, they often exhibit great ignorance and

"The frequent recommendation by judges that LGBT asylum applicants should return to their home countries and be discreet, should be declared impermissable by the Home Secretary. To expect LGBT refugees to hide their sexuality and cease having same-sex relationships is unreasonable and unacceptable," said Mr Tatchell.


Notes to editor:

The wording in the Coalition agreement is different to that contained in the Conservative Party Equalities Manifesto, launched by now Home Secretary Theresa May. It said:

"We would change the rules so that gay people fleeing persecution were granted asylum. At the moment gay asylum seekers are often returned to countries with homophobic regimes and told to keep their sexuality a secret.

LiberalDemocrat manifesto wording was:

"It is inhumane for the Government to deport gay people back to the countries where they will be persecuted because of their sexuality. We believe that everyone should be treated equally under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identification."

"We have long rejected the argument that it would be acceptable for a lesbian or gay person to be deported to a homophobic state, as long as that individual behaved in a 'discreet' manner."

"Liberal Democrats will not deport any refugees genuinely fleeing a country because sexual orientation or gender identification may mean that they are at risk of imprisonment, torture or even execution."

Further information

Report 'Failing the grade'
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