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Thursday, 26 August 2010

'Free to be me' campaign call for UK LGBT asylum seekers

By Paul Canning

One of Britain's oldest refugee campaigning groups has thrown its weight behind LGBT asylum seekers.

Refugee Action, founded in 1981 to provide a "radical new approach towards the successful resettlement in the UK of refugees and asylum seekers", has launched the 'Free to be me' campaign. It is calling for the government to 'follow on' from July's Supreme Court decision which nullified government policy that told asylum seekers to 'go home and be discrete'.

The campaign wants proper training for UK Border Agency (UKBA) decision makers, saying that the process LGBT asylum seekers are subjected to is often "unfair and degrading". They say that the methods employed for asylum seekers to 'prove' their sexuality are often "stereotypical and offensive". As a result, many are wrongly assessed, they say.

Stonewall's report on LGBT asylum, released in May and based on interviews with both asylum seekers as well as UKBA workers, documented the lack of knowledge around sexuality in the 'global south' and included pleas from many UKBA workers for better information and training. We've reported on the 'country information' supplied to those workers is often partial or even misleading.

One UKBA senior caseworker is quoted in Stonewall's report as saying that in order to decide if an asylum applicant was gay, "I would look at how they've explored their sexuality in a cultural context - reading Oscar Wilde perhaps, films and music."

It also quotes a Nigerian asylum seeker's experience:
They ask about who you have sex with, how many people and how many times. When you've never told anyone and now you have five people asking you questions about this - I found it difficult to talk about.
An anonymous UKBA worker commentating on the freemovement blog's coverage of the Supreme Court decision said:
Now it’s down to the hard task of testing peoples sexuality, I am terrified to see what sort of questions the interviewers come up with….. Who is Dorothy?….. Is Lady Gaga a man?….. And of course following on from Lord Rodgers comments any man who can’t describe what Kylie was wearing at her last concert in great details or at least provide his ticket stubs will be disbelieved.
Refugee Action say that
Currently, Home Office officials don't understand that:
  • If you've had to cover up being gay all your life, evidence of previous relationships is not easy to prove.
  • You might be too scared to say you're gay at your first interview. If you've fled torture for being gay, being open with officials will be a terrifying ordeal.
  • Even where same-sex relationships aren't illegal. people are cast out by their families, forced into marriages or violently attacked.
What they're asking is that UKBA staff should be properly trained in the law, culture and everyday practice that influence an LGBT person’s ability to live freely and safely in their country of origin. The campaign's theme is:
Living freely and safely is everyone’s right. It’s time to put an end to double standards.
Campaigns officer Sara Ayech says that over 500 people have already taken the action online and when they took the campaign to Brighton's LGBT Pride event earlier this month another 200 people signed the action card.



This Saturday they'll be at Manchester Pride.

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