Iranian fearing deportation burnt himself to death.
Home Office sends gays back to face arrest, jail, torture, rape and murder.
Gay asylum crisis – few lawyers will take on legal aid refugee applications.
London, UK – 13 December 2004
“Gay asylum-seekers who have been beaten up, arrested, jailed, tortured, raped and threatened with death are being deported back to their countries of origin on the orders of the Home Office,” according to Peter Tatchell of the gay human rights group OutRage!
“We are helping gay refugees who have been queer-bashed, imprisoned, tortured and raped. The Home Secretary refuses to give them asylum. He is sending them back. It is an outrageous violation of Britain’s responsibility under international human rights law.
“Despite evidence of severe homophobic persecution, Immigration Appeal Tribunals are dismissing many applications by genuine gay refugees. The adjudicators say gay people will not be at risk of victimisation in violently homophobic countries like Jamaica, Iran, Algeria and Zimbabwe if they hide their identity, avoid effeminate mannerisms, and either never have sex or have sex with extreme discretion.
“A 29-year old gay Iranian was ordered by the Home Office to be deported back to Iran, despite the fact that he was at risk of public execution by stoning or beheading under the fundamentalist regime’s savage anti-gay laws.
“Terrified of the fate that awaited him, Israfil Shiri decided to make sure he would not die at the hands of the Ayatollahs.
“An inquest in October in Manchester heard how Shiri walked into the offices of Refugee Action last year, doused himself in petrol and burned himself alive in preference to being deported back to Iran.
“Israfil Shiri fled Iran when the authorities there discovered he was gay. Fearing arrest and execution, he fled to Britain in 2001 and claimed asylum.
“At his asylum hearing, the adjudicator turned down his application, citing ‘lack of evidence.’ Unable to find a lawyer willing to represent him, or to produce expert evidence on the persecution of gay people in Iran, he also lost his appeal.
“Within days, the National Asylum Support Service ordered his eviction from the asylum hostel where he had been housed, turning him out in the street. Simultaneously, the government cut off his benefits. Banned from working, Shiri ended up homeless and destitute. Like many other asylum-seekers, he was forced to sleep on the streets and scrounge discarded food from rubbish bins.
“His health rapidly deteriorated. But having no address, he could not register with a GP to get treatment.
“The government has Shiri’s blood on its hands. It is enforcing an inhuman asylum system. The Home Office bears a large degree of responsibility for the suicide of this young gay man. It treated Shiri as a criminal, when in reality he was the victim of criminal abuse and neglect – both in Iran and in the UK.
“Israfil Shiri is one of at least 14 asylum-seekers who have committed suicide in the last three years in Britain, rather than return to the persecution they faced in their home countries. The lack of support he experienced is typical of the fate of many other refugees.
“Shiri’s death is a searing indictment of the whole asylum system. It shows how gay victims of persecution abroad are often denied refuge in Britain. Many get no proper legal representation. Some are incarcerated in prisons and detention centres, like common criminals. They often face homophobic abuse and assaults by other detainees. Even those housed in asylum hostels frequently experience bullying and harassment by fellow residents. Staff usually refuse to intervene to protect them.
“It is a crisis situation for gay asylum-seekers. Because of cuts in the legal aid budget, most gay law firms are doing very few legal aid asylum cases. Gay refugees are forced to turn to Home Office-nominated solicitors who have no expertise in gay cases and no knowledge of the specialist evidence needed to win a gay asylum claim.
“There is an urgent need for gay lawyers groups to organise a system where every firm agrees to take on a few legally-aided refugees. This would ensure that all refugees get legal representation,” said Mr Tatchell.
* OutRage! is appealing for funds to help its gay asylum campaign:
Please make cheques payable to “OutRage!” and send with a cover note marked “Gay Asylum Campaign” to:
PO Box 17816,
London SW14 8WT.