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Thursday, 31 March 2011

In UK, Zami Campaign for lesbian asylum seekers launches

By Julie Bindel

g3, the magazine for lesbians and bi-women, and Eaves, the UK’s only safe housing for women trafficked into prostitution in the UK, have launched a campaign to stop deportation of lesbians.

Zami: The Point Of No Return was promted by a case in January this year. 'BN' escaped from Uganda to the UK because of life-threatening homophobia. She was about to be escorted back when she was thankfully saved by an injunction.

“While 'BN' ’s case decided it was urgent that we take action, I have been worried about the situation for lesbian asylum seekers for some time,” says Denise Marshall, chief executive of  Eaves. “It made me realise that what we need for women in that situation is a refuge so we can get them out of detention and into a safe environment.”

'BN' was saved. Having been released from detention, 'BN' is safe for now, but she, along with countless other asylum-seeking lesbians in the UK, could again face deportation unless the government recognises that sending them back to countries such as Uganda is an almost certain death penalty.

“We can’t rely on last-minute interventions by lawyers,” says Linda Riley, publisher of g3. “We need to change the law so this doesn’t happen to a lesbian who has no lawyer at hand and no campaign behind her.”

The Zami campaign will focus on persuading the Home Office that lesbians are extremely vulnerable to violence and oppression if they are returned home, even if it is only same-sex activity between men that is criminalised.

Asylum claims based on sexual orientation have been recognised in this country since 1999, but campaigners say that officials lack essential training and guidance on the issue. The Home Office is more likely to refuse applications from lesbians or gay men seeking asylum than those made by heterosexuals. Between 98 and 99% of claims by lesbians and gay men are refused, compared to 73% for other claims.

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) makes the assumption that if there is no specific law against lesbians in the country of origin, then the claimants are not in danger on return, but that is far from the reality.

Linda Riley feels the situation is urgent.
“As lesbians who are privileged enough to be able to demonstrate publicly for our rights, whether at Pride or on the anti-Pope demo, we cannot just sit back and do nothing,” she stresses. “We have to recognise that it is harder for lesbians to get support from the general public.”
Denise Marshall agrees.
“I would not wish to be a gay man in those detention centres, but for lesbians it can be even worse because we face the threat of misogyny as well as homophobia,” she says. “We live in a country where we have civil partnerships and gay characters in soaps, and therefore we have a responsibility to protect our sisters when they seek refuge here.”
  • To find out more about the campaign and fill out the quick online petition, visit www.zami.org.uk.
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