A five-point plan to ensure fairness for victims of homophobic persecution
London – 19 May 2008
“Britain’s asylum system is homophobic. The Home Office is refusing asylum to genuine lesbian and gay refugees and sending them back to countries where they are at risk of arrest, imprisonment, torture and even execution,” said Peter Tatchell of the gay human rights group OutRage!
“The government seems more interested in cutting asylum numbers than in ensuring a fair, just and compassionate asylum system. It is failing gay refugees who have fled savage persecution, including death squads, vigilante attacks and attempted so-called honour killings,” he said.
He was speaking at Amnesty International headquarters on Friday 16 May 2008, at an event celebrating the worldwide International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), which was jointly hosted by Amnesty International and the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association.
Here is the text of Peter Tatchell’s speech, followed by examples of lesbian and gay asylum claimants who have suffered homophobic mistreatment by the Home Office:
“Since 1999, the Labour government has repealed most of Britain’s anti-gay laws and introduced new legislation to recognise same-sex partnerships and protect gay people against discrimination.
“These positive gay rights measures are being undermined by Labour’s failure to tackle the homophobic and transphobic bias of the asylum system.
“We need urgent government action to implement five key policy changes to ensure a fair hearing for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) asylum applicants:
“First, all asylum staff and adjudicators should receive sexual orientation and transgender awareness training. They currently receive race and gender training but no training at all on sexual orientation and gender identity issues. As a result, they often make stereotyped assumptions: that a feminine woman can’t be a lesbian or that a masculine man cannot be gay. They sometimes rule that someone who has been married must be faking their homosexuality.
“Second, the government should issue explicit instructions to all immigration and asylum staff, and to all asylum judges, that homophobic and transphobic persecution are legitimate grounds for granting asylum. The government has never done this, which signals to asylum staff and judges that claims by LGBT people are not as worthy as those based on persecution because of a person’s ethnicity, gender, politics or faith.
“Third, the official Home Office country information reports – on which judges often rely when ruling on asylum applications – must be upgraded and expanded to reflect the true scale of anti-LGBT persecution. At the moment, the government’s documentation of anti-gay and anti-transgender persecution in individual countries is often partial, inaccurate and misleading. It consistently downplays the severity of victimisation suffered by LGBT people in violently homophobic countries like Pakistan, Uganda, Egypt, Nigeria, Iran, Cameroon, Iraq, Zimbabwe, Palestine and Saudi Arabia.
“Fourth, legal aid funding for asylum claims needs to be substantially increased. Existing funding levels are woefully inadequate. This means that most asylum applicants – gay and straight – are unable to prepare an adequate submission at their asylum hearing. Their solicitors don’t get paid enough to procure the necessary witness statements, medical reports and other vital corroborative evidence.
“Fifth, the Home Office needs to issue official instructions to asylum detention centre staff that they have a duty to stamp out anti-gay and anti-trans abuse, threats and violence. Many LGBT detainees report suffering homophobic victimisation, and say they fail to receive adequate protection and support from detention centre staff. These shortcomings need to be remedied by LGBT awareness training to ensure that detention centre staff take action against homophobic and transphobic perpetrators, and that they are committed to protect LGBT detainees who are being victimised.
“Labour’s claim to be a LGBT-friendly government rings hollow when it continues to fail genuine LGBT refugees. We must insist on an asylum system that is fair, just and compassionate – for LGBT refugees and for all refugees,” said Mr Tatchell.
Sample case histories of how the asylum system fails genuine LGBT refugees:
* Two years ago, Thando Dube embarked on a 33-day hunger strike in protest at being held in detention for six months. She was not a political dissident held by a brutal regime. She was a regular civilian who was incarcerated in a British asylum detention centre. Her crime? Thando is a lesbian who fled to the UK to escape the well-known persecution of LGBT people in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.
* At least two gay Iranian asylum seekers have committed suicide in UK in the last five years, after being ordered by the Home Office to return to Iran. Israfil Shiri, aged 29, burned himself alive. Hussein Nasseri shot himself in the head. Both chose suicide rather than suffer deportation and probable execution by Iran’s ayatollahs.
* The Home Office insists that Jamaica is a “safe” country. Many LGBT Jamaican asylum applications are rejected, despite evidence from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that anti-gay attacks are widespread. In the Home Office’s view, gay Jamaicans can seek police protection. But the reality is, according to Amnesty, that “protection is often denied by the police, who in many cases appear to tacitly or actively support such violence.”
* Isaac K, aged 17, fled to Britain from Uganda after he was caught with his boyfriend. A mob, which included local officials, tried to kill him. According to the Home Office, what happened to Isaac does not constitute persecution and therefore he does not qualify for asylum.
* The Home Office likewise denies the abuse of gay men in Algeria. RK was jailed for homosexuality. In prison, he was raped and beaten by inmates and guards. His teeth were knocked out and he suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. The Home Office insists that it is safe for RK to return to Algeria.
* Many LGBT victims are forcibly – even violently – deported back to their homophobic home countries. This happened to gay Jamaican, EB. He alleges violent beatings by Home Office-contracted security guards who forced him onto the plane. When he arrived in Kingston, his family say that he could barely walk.
These abuses are happening under a Labour government – a government that claims to support LGBT human rights.