As Europe faces the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War, the Home Office needs better evaluations of LGBTI asylum seekers cases. Many refugees are rejected because of poor standards in decision making.
Charles, a refugee from West Africa, entered the United Kingdom with the greatest of expectations. Finally he had reached a land where he would be free to express his sexuality.
But when his appeal at the Home Office was rejected, he ended up detained in an immigration centre where he attempted to kill himself three times.
Charles tells his story during an evening discussion at Amnesty International in London. He is just one of many refugees fleeing their country in the hope of a better life, only to have their lives turned completely upside down. One day they are a person who holds a position of great responsibility and respect within their own community; the day after they are no one. Barely able to cling onto the life-ring.
Homosexuality is considered illegal in at least 78 countries, in five of which the death penalty is applied. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual and Intersex (LGBTI) people who live in these countries face discrimination and abuse on a daily basis.
The number of LGBTI refugees seeking asylum in the UK is currently unknown as data is not easily retrievable, but what is certain is that there are currently thousands of LGBTI refugees waiting to be granted asylum in the UK.
The government’s plan to resettle 20,000 refugees over the next five years in the country might risk not actually applying to those who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual coming from Syria for instance. In the latest report by the International Development committee, the LGBT Syrian group was identified as one of the most vulnerable and one that should get access to a fair resettlement programme.
Paul Dillane, Executive Director of UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group, who also attended the talk, recently spoke out about the report saying: “This significant report echoes many of the serious concerns we have expressed to the Government directly. LGBT refugees are some of the most vulnerable given the grave dangers many experience in refugee camps and places of displacement. Resettlement is often the only durable solution to guarantee their safety.”
According to statistics released by the Home Office, the majority of initial decisions on general asylum between 1994-2014 were refused, with appeals only having a 24% success rate. In 2010, UKLGIG exposed that at least 98% of LGBTI asylum seekers had been refused asylum and sent back to their home countries, where they would most likely end up jailed, tortured or, in the worst cases, killed.
This is probably what would have happened to Charles had he not left his country. He used to be a respected person, a doctor specialising in reproductive health and social research, but suddenly he had to flee to avoid persecution.
Homosexuality is illegal in Charles’ home country. He has been an activist since the age of 15, and decided to set up an association in order to help the local LGBTI community. He was receiving support from local and international organisations but had to cover up the real purpose in order to avoid persecution. Officially, he was trying to help those affected by HIV/Aids.
“What I saw if I have to describe to you is really difficult, those pictures of people who are beaten up, arrested, killed because of their sexuality and you will never know,” said Charles, with frustration showing through his voice.
He told the audience that police and politicians go to great lengths to cover up their actions so that nobody talks about it, but also so that they can look good in the eyes of the West, helping to provide aid.
When the real purpose of his association was revealed, Charles realised that he could no longer live in his country. He was beaten up by a group of people who threatened and accused him of not taking care of HIV cases but instead of being gay and spreading the disease.
Charles left his country without many resources and found a way to come to the UK. After being homeless for six months, he decided to claim asylum as a LGBTI refugee.
During his interview with the Home Office, he was left astonished at the questions asked by the officers, many of them regarding his sexual relationships as a gay man. He remembers another gay refugee telling him how he had been asked if he had ever been pregnant.
A report in 2014 by John Vine, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, found out that sexually explicit and humiliating questions had been asked during one fifth of the interviews. Paul Dillane is adamant that what these refugees do in their private life gives very little insight into the Human Rights situation in their home countries.
According to Mr Dillane, a “cultural disbelief” has started to grow within the Home Office as they have implemented their own system to judge these refugees’ cases based on their views and, many times, on stereotypes: “We saw people who had been wrongly refused as they failed to prove their sexuality or gender identity”. Dillane thinks the government is simply not doing enough.
Charles seems confused about what happened on that occasion, and he is clueless about what scoring system is used to grant people asylum.
Moreover, this system makes it difficult for refugees with a good education to be able to express themselves and be granted asylum. In fact Charles was told that because of his “governmental English” his case needed to be better assessed.
Charles was later moved to a detention centre, where he was intimidated by people from his own country, who threatened to expose him. He reached breaking point and attempted to take his life three times before being released.
Today, Charles is soon to be registered as a doctor in the UK but keeps a low profile in order to avoid putting the life of his family back home in danger. Charles wants to keep fighting for the rights of the LGBTI community. He also believes that the refugee system should be reviewed to make sure that refugees who are genuinely escaping from persecution can be granted asylum more easily.
In this regard, Leonard Zulu, Senior Legal Officer at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) explains what strategy the organisation will take to better guarantee international protection to LGBTI refugees.
Sub-edited by Katie Scott and Alexandra Vryzakis
Images by Marvin Nadalutti
Videos by Marvin Nadalutti