The British Home Office is facing intense scrutiny after leaked documents revealed that it has subjected gay asylum seekers to “degrading” interrogations about their sex lives.
The report, dated from October 2013 and obtained by the Observer, reveals that Home Office officials questioned one bisexual man for five hours without a lawyer present, and asked him a series of questions that by most any standard would be classed as prurient.
For instance, the man is said to have been asked the following:
“Did you put your penis into x’s backside?”
“When x was penetrating you, did you have an erection?”
“Did x ejaculate inside you?”
“Why did you use a condom?”
“What is it about men’s backsides that attracts you?”
“What is it about the way men walk that turns you on?”
On Saturday the Home Office admitted that staff were “not permitted to ask inappropriate or intrusive question” but maintained that questions relating to sexual orientation were asked “as sensitively as possible.”
However, concerned legal experts have said that these kinds of questions clearly fall outside of sensitivity but this isn’t in fact all that surprising given evidence of the British Home Office’s hostility toward all asylum seekers.
This is the worst I have seen, but these sorts of intrusive, abusive questions are features of Home Office interview practice, particularly in cases involving sexuality. The underlying problem is that officials believe everyone is a liar. It leads to a fundamental lack of respect for the people they are dealing with.
This comes after revelations last year that gay asylum seekers were facing such a high threshold to prove their sexuality that several claimants had resorted to filming themselves having sex in order to support their claim. They also reported being asked what kinds of clubs they go to and what music they listen to, and being judged whether they are “gay enough” on that basis without proper weight to the fact that cultural norms differ and that persecuted minorities from other countries will be forced to express their sexuality differently.
At the time those allegations were made, the Home Office had pledged to review its treatment of gay asylum applications but had said that the UK takes the proud stance of not discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. While that may be true, subjecting gay asylum seekers to such deeply personal questions is clearly degrading and overtly hostile. What’s more, there’s evidence that these questions may mask homophobia.
The UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG) reported in 201o that as many as 98-99% of LGBT asylum applications were rejected, compared to 73% of general asylum claims. Around 30% of gay asylum cases were later approved on appeal. Since then, how the UK handles asylum seekers has changed, partly due to a Supreme Court review and partly because of government reform.
Nevertheless, in its most recent report, the UKLGIG found that the UK immigration system is still having major problems with how it decides what should form credible LGBT asylum claims, and in some cases is using small discrepancies in applications in order to refuse those applications, despite the claim’s wider details appearing legitimate.
Critics say that until the UK government can rid itself of its wider hostility to asylum seekers, minority groups like LGBTIs in particular will continue to suffer due to their difficulty proving persecution related to their personal identity. For asylum seekers from countries like Nigeria, which recently increased its persecution of LGBT citizens, this kind of treatment is therefore incredibly concerning and may leave them feeling without options when hoping to escape discrimination and potential violence.
Photo credit: Thinkstock.
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