Saturday, February 27News For London

Are LGBT asylum seekers welcome in the UK?

 LGBT asylum seekers in the UK are asked to prove their homosexuality. Reporter Indraja Gugle explores

Sub editor: Cynthia Gregoire

Indraja_LGBT history month
An LGBT parade in Istanbul in 2011                Photo credit: Indraja Gugle

In 2013, UK saw around 283 LGBT asylum seekers. In order to stay in Britain, they are asked to prove their homosexuality, a breach of human rights. Some of the questions asked at asylum interviews range from “Can you prove you’re a homosexual?”, “Why do you choose to be homosexual when you know it is illegal in your country?”, “Why do you think you are a homosexual?” and “Can’t you be discreet about your sexuality and thereby avoid being noticed as a gay person?”.

Britain’s asylum system

Peter Tatchell says, “Britain’s asylum system is homophobic. The Home Office is refusing asylum to genuine lesbian and gay refugees and sending them back to countries where they are at risk of arrest, imprisonment, torture and even execution.” Peter Tatchell has worked extensively for gay rights. One of his recommendations to the government is that it “should issue explicit instructions to all immigration and asylum staff, and to all asylum judges, that homophobic and transphobic persecution are legitimate grounds for granting asylum.”

“The government has never done this, which signals to asylum staff and judges that claims by LGBT people are not as worthy as those based on persecution because of a person’s ethnicity, gender, politics or faith.”

The UK attracts hundreds of thousands of  migrants every year through better opportunities and a better standard of life. In the year ending June 2014, there were 260,000 migrants coming to the UK according to Migration Watch UK. For many LGBT migrants the UK is also their only shot at a better life since their home countries have made life impossible to live in numerous ways.

The UK celebrates the LGBT history month every February to coincide with the 2003 abolition of Section 28. Currently 78 countries criminalise homosexuality. Five countries – Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen- along with parts of Nigeria and Somalia still award the death penalty for same-sex sexual relations.

Conditions in detention centres

Homosexuals live under a lot of pressure and have to flee because of life threats. “They treated us like a piece of meat – like in the boxing room where they have something hanging from the ceiling and they’re punching it. I got ninety lashes so I couldn’t sleep for a month on my back,” says Mahmood, an Iranian asylum-seeker.

Two Iranian asylum seekers, Israfil Shiri and Hussein Nasseri, committed suicide in early 2000’s following Home Office’s orders to return to Iran. Israfil Shiri burned himself alive, while Hussein Nasseri shot himself in the head. Thando Dube from Zimbabwe went on a 33-day hunger strike in protest against being detained for six months in a British asylum detention centre.

Although asylum staff and adjudicators have been receiving sexual awareness training, it is sometimes poor and ignored. “Despite promises by the coalition government to put the system right, there has been only marginal improvement in the treatment of LGBT refugees in recent years. The asylum system is still institutionally homophobic, with many genuine refugees being refused a safe haven,” says Peter Tatchell.

Cultural differences faced by LGBT asylum seekers



Often asylum seekers offer pictures and videos to prove that they are indeed homosexual, though now authorities refuse to accept such material. Asylum seekers face stigma and shame of talking about their sexual orientation and their relationships. They find it difficult to open up to a complete stranger about intimate details about their lives when in their home countries they could be prosecuted for it.

“There are cultural differences between the UK and the countries where these people come from,” says Edwin Sesange, director of African LGBTI Out and Proud Diamond Group. His organisation processes 30 to 60 applications every year, most of which prove successful. He stresses that asylum seekers have fear of authorities. “It’s not something that you can just walk up to a person and say I’m gay.” He agrees that the Home Office must issue better guidelines for the conduct of interviews.

Peter Tatchell says: “LGBT asylum seekers are no longer told to go back to their home countries and ‘behave with discretion.’ Instead, the Home Office disputes their sexuality, even when they have strong corroborating evidence.” Many LGBT victims are forcibly and violently deported back to their home countries.