Tuesday, 6 July 2010

BBC carries cross-chanel coverage on LGBT asylum; demo at Supreme Court tomorrow

By Paul Canning

The BBC has multiple reports today on LGBT asylum, provoked by the decision coming tomorrow on the 'discretion test' case from the Supreme Court.

The main report by Mike Lanchin interviews H, the Cameroonian involved in the case (the other is an Iranian gay man) and Alexandra McDowall from UNHCR, who intervened in the case on the side of the applicants, alongside the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The report also featured on the top-rating 'Today' show on BBC Radio Four and sparked debate on BBC Five Live Breakfast (which had Stonewall's Ben Summerskill and Sir Andrew Green from MigrationWatch UK, it featured calls from homophobic callers claiming to be a judge and a barrister) and is also a BBC 'Have your say' talking point and was covered on BBC America.

The FiveLive discussion heard all of the repeated myths in all coverage of LGBT asylum (in fact asylum generally) which features comments from the general public - and therefore the need for campaigners to address those myths. Claims by Phillip Green that change would mean 'millions' of LGBT claiming asylum and, answering a caller, on the incredibly widely held myth about 'they should claim in the first safe country' (which is solely about the European Union under the Dublin Regulation) both went unanswered.

The report description chosen by the Today show editors shows another of the problems with LGBT asylum reporting - most prominently highlighted in the misleading if not dangerous coverage in The Independent. Today says: "Almost all asylum claims based on the threat of persecution on the grounds of homosexuality are rejected by the UK Border Agency. Today reporter Mike Lanchin explains how this is all about to change."

This is similar to the Independent's headline of "98% sent back" when it's actually 98% in one study found to be refused in the first instance. Lanchin was extremely careful to make this distinction. He also, very subtly, through a change of tone in his voice, says that the Coalition's policy simply restates existing policy - that no people will be sent back where persecution is proven. That is, that the actual content of Coalition policy represents no change, and, contrary to Today's description, Lanchin does not explains how this is all about to change - he cannot, no-one in the government has said anything about how it'll change.

This background is true but what I have argued is based on the thrust (perhaps 'hope' is a better word) of change. The very existence of a policy inclusion (particularly its prominence in the first Coalition agreement) represents, coming from longstanding LibDem support as it does and back by restatement as an example of difference by the Tories, including the new Home Secretary, on several occasions, hope.

But the devil is in both the detail plus the ability of advocates to secure change in the Home Office/Border Agency and legal system as it is not just about one aspect, i.e. the 'discretion test', but great swathes of both policy and practice which went neglected during the last government. I'm not convinced by lobbying thus far as a mass campaign is needed to draw in wide support from allies and there are at least four separate sets of demands out there.

The fact of BBC interest is significant though, especially if it sparks and is followed up by more. Media helps, but whatever the Supreme Court announces tomorrow it is pressure on the government which will actually secure change on-the-ground for real LGBT refugees.

Movement for Justice - who marched for LGBT asylum at London Pride - will be holding a demonstration tomorrow, Wednesday 7 July at 9am at The Supreme Court (Parliament Square, London SW1P 3BD, opposite the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben).

Phone Alex Owolade on 0208 674 4051 or 07985 403 781 for more information.

Movement for Justice is also holding a LGBT asylum campaign meeting on Monday 12 July at 6.30pm, in the Social Room at Brixton Recreation Centre, Brixton Station Road, Brixton, London SW9 8QQ (2 minutes from Brixton Tube & BR Stations).

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