Monday, 10 October 2011

Why don't UKBA believe Ugandan asylum seeker Ms P is a lesbian?

Update 12 October: This article has been altered to anonymise Ms P following a judicial order.

By Karen Doyle

Like so many other lesbians in African nations where homosexuality is illegal, Ms P faced a constant pressure to conform, to marry, to have a boyfriend.

In 1996, she was pressured into a relationship with a man who became her rapist. Despite all of the pressure she had several lesbian relationships, from one with another girl in boarding school in her teens to maintaining a relationship with a woman for a year and a half in 1998.

Her sexuality had to be hidden, her relationships secret; a constant fear of discovery accompanied her daily.

UK Immigration decision makers and judges in Ms P ’s case have shown a complete disdain for lesbian relationships, in one case accusing Ms P ’s long term girlfriend of “exaggerating the lesbian aspect of their relationship”.

The original decision maker found that the fact Ms P used a contraceptive implant as proof that she must be lying about her sexuality. In fact Ms P was both terrified of being raped again and also wanted to regulate difficult periods (there are many reasons for women to use contraceptive). This sexist and demeaning view of lesbian sexuality is not just confined to Ms P ’s case; it is all too common.

Reports of judges/decision makers commenting on women's appearance as proof they are not really lesbians, refusing to accept witness statements from partners and stating that if a woman has ever had sex with men she can’t really be a lesbian. This is part of a general approach the immigration authorities have adopted in order to circumvent the Supreme Court’s ruling that the Home Office could no longer justify deporting LGBT people to countries where they face torture/imprisonment by arguing that they can live ‘discretely’.

This approach imposes extra obstacles on lesbians making asylum claims, because to survive as a lesbian in countries where you are expected to be married young, many have to live double lives, most have been raped, most have had to seek the help of men who demand payment in sex just to escape to safety. Often lesbians fall into these same abusive relationships in the UK because dealing with that kind of trauma and abuse is no easy process, believing that you are free to live as a lesbian is not easy, especially as, to survive in the UK, women often end up in the same national communities they escaped from.

In 2002 in Uganda Ms P was taken into custody following a claim of theft at the army medical centre where she worked. Held in custody for about a month, she was subjected to beatings and rape, she heard that one of her colleagues who had been taken into custody with her had died because of the severity of the beatings.

Ms P says:
“Most of the severe beatings took place when I was resisting being raped. Once I stopped resisting, the beatings became less severe and less frequent”. 
She managed to escape this nightmare with the help of a guard who took pity on her. On the run, she stayed at friends’ and relatives’ houses before managing to obtain a student visa and being able to flee to the UK in 2003.

On arrival in the UK, Ms P found herself in the grips of severe depression; when her photograph was published in a college prospectus she became fearful of discovery and left her course. At that time there was a lot of discussion and rumours in the Ugandan community about a man called Mr Guma who was a Ugandan national working at UKBA ensuring that all Ugandan asylum claims were refused. For this reason she was scared of claiming asylum and had no idea that she could apply for asylum based on her sexuality. Mr Guma was exposed, the rumours proved true and the story reached the news in December 2008.

Her hand was forced when she was discovered in a routine stop by police and taken into detention 24 April 2010. Despite an obviously very complicated case and being a victim of torture, Ms P was placed on 'Fast Track', given just days between each stage in the process.

Ms P ’s initial claim for asylum was refused with just three short paragraphs making the decision not to believe that she is a lesbian.
“You failed to disclose you were a lesbian when asked why you could not return to Uganda during your screening interview and only disclosed it during your asylum interview. This late disclose of evidence is considered to undermine your claim."

"You claim that you have been in a relationship with Miss M since 2008, however you have not provided any evidence to substantiate this part of your claim. You have provided a passport for Miss M by fax along with a witness statement, however it is considered that this witness statement could have been produced by anyone and is completely self serving."

"It must also be noted from your medical records that you have a contraceptive implant and that since you arrived in the UK in 2003 you have had four contraceptive injections a year that were administered by the NHS. It is considered that if you were a lesbian you would not have had a contraceptive injection for the past seven years nor would you have recently had a contraceptive implant.”
The appeal (held 10 days later) went even further to uphold the previous decision, despite Ms P ’s long-term girlfriend appearing as a witness.
“I am not persuaded to the appropriate lower standard that she and the appellant enjoy a same sex relationship. I accept that they are very fond of each other and meet regularly, but they do not live together for reasons that were never explained. I find Ms M was exaggerating the lesbian aspect of their friendship in order to assist the appellant.”
Ms P was scheduled for removal to Uganda 15 June 2010; she switched solicitors because she found out that the solicitor advising her throughout her claim was a central leader of the Ugandan President Museveni’s NRM party in the UK and Ireland. The NRM is the party initiating and driving through the ‘kill gays bill’. Her new solicitor was able to secure her release pending a Judicial Review claim of the decision to deport.

You would think that having had a representative of the ruling party in Uganda as your solicitor would completely undermine the Appeal Tribunal’s decision and lead to allowing a fresh claim - but no! On 2 September 2011 Ms Ms P ’s Fresh Claim was refused.

Despite 12 witness statements, including a statement from an ex-girlfriend, a bar manager who could testify that Ms P went there with her girlfriend, and many photographs of her at gay events - the UKBA still maintain their disbelief that Ms P is a lesbian.

On the question of Ms P ’s previous solicitors leading involvement in the NRM, they found that there was no evidence that he would disclose details of her claim for asylum to the Ugandan authorities. No mention was made of the fact that he did not disclose his involvement in the NRM to her and therefore it was at the very least a serious conflict of interest, compromising her case.

Ms P is appealing the decision to refuse her fresh claim, her appeal hearing is on Wednesday 12 October. She has been active in the fight for immigrant and LGBT rights as a member of Movement for Justice, and she is determined to see that other lesbians do not go through what she has gone through.
There is a demonstration at Ms P 's next Asylum Appeal Hearing:
Wednesday 12th October 2011, 9am
Taylor House, Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R 4QU (Short Walk from Angel tube)
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