British ministers have admitted that, due to a failure to properly track asylum claims on the basis of gay identity, the British Home Office has no way of knowing whether Britain is still deporting gay and lesbian applicants back to countries where they may be at risk because of institutionalized homophobia and anti-LGBT violence.
This follows a court ruling last year that the Home Office could no longer justify returning gay people to their home countries where they may be at risk of violence and persecution on the basis that the applicant could live “discreetly” and not disclose their sexuality.
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In that July ruling, welcomed by Theresa May, the home secretary, one judge described how homophobia had “dramatically worsened” in countries such as Uganda, Malawi and Iran, making it necessary to allow those at risk protection in Britain.
The UK Border Agency was told by the Home Office last year that the new rules should be applied “with immediate effect” and that relevant cases should be “flagged and recorded”.
But more than six months on, the government still does not know how many cases they are dealing with, let alone whether the ruling is being followed.
Last week, the US secretary of state, Hilary Clinton, launched her department’s 35th Human Rights report, which cited a Stonewall report drawing attention to “significant disadvantages” experienced by lesbian and gay asylum seekers in Britain. The UK chapter in the US state department report said: “Stonewall claimed that, by ‘fast tracking’ these more complex cases and denying them quickly, UKBA staff did not give applicants time to talk openly about their sexual orientation.”
The campaign group found that, in the period between 2005-2009 almost all gay and lesbian asylum seeker claims were initially refused, compared with a 76% refusal rate among all asylum seekers, and were more likely to be fast tracked, which meant applicants and their lawyers had much less time to prepare an appeal.
A difficulty in assessing genuine asylum claims on the basis of LGBT identity is routinely cited as a problem for asylum officials across the globe.
There have, however, been several high profiled cases involving gay asylum claims being rejected in Britain, among them the case of Kiana Firouz, an Iranian filmmaker who created a video documentary about the treatment of LGBT citizens by the Iranian government.
Firouz met with difficulties last year when she was initially rejected for asylum in the UK despite the British government readily acknowledging that state sanctioned anti-LGBT violence and persecution in Iran is a pressing problem. Firouz was eventually granted asylum, but her case exposed serious concerns regarding how LGBT asylum applications are treated.
Members of the European Parliament recently voted on measures to modernize the way asylum claims are handled with a particular emphasis on how asylum claims made on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity are overseen. Click here to read more.