Spain has denied an asylum request by a Cameroonian woman who claims she is at risk of being sent to prison because of her homosexuality.
Christelle Nangnou, a 28-year-old from Yaoundé, is being held in Madrid’s Barajas airport awaiting repatriation, something she says she has physically resisted several times.
“If I go back, I will be sent to prison for my sexuality,” Ms Nangnou said on Monday via the payphone in the secure wing of the airport where she has been kept since arriving on a flight from Cameroon on March 25.
In Cameroon homosexuality is illegal, typically carrying a prison sentence of five years in prison.
Ms Nangnou said that a newspaper article last year identified her as the leader of a group of gay women, leading to police visiting her house.
The police visit alerted her family to her sexuality, something she had kept secret. “My mother did not know that I was homosexual. She said she couldn’t believe I did those things. In Cameroon parents feel ashamed of having a child like that.”
Ms Nangnou said her father died in 2005.
Ms Nangnou said she earned a living selling jewellery before she decided to flee the country to escape arrest, using another person’s identification card to exit Cameroon.
On arrival at Barajas airport she requested asylum, but was refused. Her lawyer in Spain, Eduardo Gómez Cuadrado, said the asylum authorities at Barajas claimed that her “story was not credible” and that there have been three attempts to repatriate her and on one occasion she was placed on a plane.
“But her resistance was such that the pilot refused to fly with her on board. She has a wound on her eyebrow and a smashed fingernail and she says she feels beaten up all over after so many physical struggles. She is physically and mentally exhausted,” Mr Gómez said.
Mr Gómez has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the hope that the Strasbourg tribunal will block Ms Nangnou’s repatriation while her appeal can be heard.
“Everyone has the right to appeal an administrative or judicial decision,” Mr Gómez said. “Otherwise, she could be repatriated only to find out in a couple of years that she was right. But then it would be too late.”
The ECHR has stayed any expulsion order on Ms Nangnou until April 17, giving her Madrid lawyer more time to present a case.
According to Paloma Favieres, an expert on asylum law from the Spanish Commission for Refugees (CEAR), Spain’s legislation on asylum was updated in 2009 to specifically include sexual orientation as a cause of persecution.
“There have been positive cases since then. It is very difficult to prove one’s sexuality but the authorities must look at the objective situation of the country concerned.”
Ms Favieres said the existence of laws against homosexuality should be sufficient to show evidence of possible persecution, which would allow a person’s request to be processed and not rejected outright.
Spain’s interior ministry said it could not discuss individual cases.