Welcome here? The UK asylum system and the experiences of LGBT refugees

UK FlagOn Apr 25, 2014 STAR reported: In February LSESU STAR held a panel discussion on the application of UK asylum law to LGBT refugees and their experiences here in the UK. LSESU STAR president Dorothea Baltruks writes about the event and why the issue matters so much. Last summer during an internship, I met a young woman in an immigration removal centre who had come from a country in Sub-Saharan Africa to the UK to join a charitable organisation here that is helping lesbian and bisexual women from Africa. After her visa had expired, the Home Office detained her. I was going through the pile of documents she had collected since then and suddenly found myself holding in my hands a copy of a ‘WANTED’ poster with her photo. It had been issued by a government agency and it said that she was supposed to be prosecuted for homosexual conduct. The Home Office had recognised this as valid evidence – but not enough to support her asylum application on grounds of her sexuality. They wanted a written witness statement from her ex-girlfriend to prove that she was gay. When we left the detention centre, we knew that she would be deported within the next two weeks. Almost 80 countries in the world criminalise consensual same-sex intercourse, in five of them with the death penalty. No, six – Brunei just introduced it. According to the report ‘No Going Back’ that Stonewall published in 2010, only 1% of asylum applications on grounds of sexual orientation were successful. The explanation for this is obvious, S Chelvan, a barrister and a leading expert in this area, told us at our event in February. Proving a person’s sexual identity and proving that they are likely to fear prosecution because of it in their home countries, is usually very difficult given the lack of tangible evidence. LGBTI refugees are people who have often suffered years of discrimination, being forced to lie about, hide or deny their sexual identity. How difficult must it then be to come to the UK and face authorities who don’t believe you that you’re not straight? Who tell you that you will be deported if you don’t disclose intimate details about your sexual relationships, often to a humiliating degree, as the Home Affairs select committee described in a report published in October. Things have improved in recent years, Amanda Gray from the UNHCR told us, and the government has shown real commitment to addressing some of the issues. As Peter Tatchell illustrated in his talk, often Home Office case workers’ treatment of LGBTI refugees would reveal poor knowledge about sexual and gender identity, or simply outright homophobia. Lesbian women would not be believed to be homosexuals because they were married and had children back in their home countries – nothing unusual in countries where religious, political and social pressures forces people into this in order to avoid harm. The cuts to legal aid funding have already had severe consequences for LGBTI asylum seekers, given that their cases are often complex and uncertain, and too likely to be unsuccessful. Hence, legal aid firms increasingly struggle to take these cases on. Stuart Hanson JP’s charity No Going Back seeks to provide this funding for LGBTI asylum seekers, as well as providing advise and non-legal support. Being LGBTI is about more than sexual attraction and desires. As Chelvan emphasised, most LGBTI people realise that they are different long before they realise who they are sexually attracted to. This process of realisation can be hard enough in a country like the UK – now imagine going through this if you’re in Iran or Uganda. Imagine you realise that you will have to live either a life in secret, a life lying about who you are and forcing yourself to conform to the life that is socially acceptable, or a life of discrimination, abuse and threats. As Peter Tatchell emphasised at our event, changing the formal and informal discrimination of LGBTI people in these countries is vital. But so is making sure that LGBTI people who flee from homophobia, find protection and support in this country, not disbelief, discrimination and ignorance. via STAR | News | Welcome here? The UK asylum system and the experiences of LGBT refugees.

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