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Gay asylum seekers
Gay Times

Gay asylum seekers

Posted November 1, 2015   |   9172 views   |   Men's Interest   |   Comments (0) It’s no secret that gay people are fleeing from the 78 countries that’ve outlawed homosexuality. But on reaching the UK, LGBT asylum seekers face discrimination, detainment and violence. Is it time the law changed?

If you list friends of the gay community for this year, The Daily Mail probably won’t be high up. After dismissing plans for classes addressing homophobic bullying as “sex lessons” a few months ago, the paper has recently zeroed in on a new target – people forced to flee governments that could stone them to death because of their sexuality.

One story in particular stands out. The Mail recently claimed signs were plastered over the Calais migrant ‘Jungle’ encouraging people to fake being gay for an easy way into the UK, suggesting those previously escaping persecution by one of the 78 countries that outlaw homosexual acts are, in fact, liars.

The problems with this come thick and fast. When asked why a story was published without a photo of the posters, The Mail claimed it never took a copy because “it doesn’t make for a very interesting picture”, adding that if we checked now, there’s a chance the signs might’ve already been taken down.

But what happens if you ask Vice reporter Sally Hayden, who saw the exact location of The Mail’s apparent sightings at the time the story was published? “No, I didn’t see any posters like that.” And what about Dr Thom Davies, whose research involved spending recent months inside the camp? “No, I’ve never seen them.” It seems there’s simply no evidence of the posters The Mail is claiming were there.

Overall, the story is yet another distraction from the bigger problem – the terrible reality facing LGBT asylum seekers. Just for starters, there’s the many people refused refugee protection in the UK due to the inherently flawed decisions based on Home Office policy. “It’s unfair, pure and simple,” says Paul Dillane, executive director of the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group.

“One in five LGBT asylum cases involved stereotyped questions in a situation where it’s often a matter of life and death. We’ve had cases where people have been asked where they go clubbing in order to determine their sexuality. They assume that the first thing LGBT migrants – people living on ?5 a day – would do when arriving to the UK is go to a gay club.”
It’s this failure to understand the complexities of LGBT life that can rip apart people’s lives. Aderonke Apata, a lesbian from Nigeria, was refused asylum when interviewing officers unearthed some past heterosexual relationships. This decision was upheld, even though she showed the Home Office a DVD and photographs of her sex life with her current female partner.

The absurdity of Aderonke’s story doesn’t even touch the most gruelling aspect of many LGBT asylum seekers’ everyday life – the UK’s Detained Fast Track system. It’s a process allowing the Home Office to lock up innocent people into centres offering little privacy, lengthy integrations and open homophobia – both from other inmates and guards.

“On one occasion I was threatened by a cell mate,” says Kato, a gay asylum seeker from Uganda. “After calling me all manner of derogatory names, he said, ‘I will rape you, fuck you to death and make sure I kill you if they ever allow you to stay a night in my cell.’ It all happened in front of a prison official.”

Kato is not alone. Akiiki, another Ugandan refugee, faced the same reality in the centres: “One of the guards called me a poof and there were Jamaicans who kept hurling abuse at some Iranian guys – calling them batty men.” Another, Tahir, a gay man from Pakistan eventually granted refugee status, was sexually assaulted during his detainment.
This is precisely the environment in which gay people are expected to gather evidence that may prove their sexuality, or phone a lawyer about their case in front of other inmates. Worse still, they have only two weeks to put together their case – 14 days to come up with a lifetime’s worth of proof in a place where the threat of violence is not only real, but rife.
It’s little wonder that John Vine, the chief inspector of Borders and Immigration, expressed concerns in a report last year about the quality of decision making, when more than a quarter of initial LGBT asylum decisions were overturned at appeal. In other words, it’s a system seemingly set up to fail.

Although there’s no official statistics, the pass rate in the Home Office is well known. “We knew that for about every ten LGBT asylum seekers, only one would get through,” says Gareth Gross, who from 2001 spent ten years as an immigration officer. “A few times I’ve had unsuccessful asylum seekers contacting me just to say I was wrong. All I could do was sincerely apologise.”

Fortunately, the unfairness of the process has been acknowledged by the government and, in July this year, the centres were “temporarily suspended” by the Minister for Immigration, James Brokenshire. But it might not be long before LGBT people escaping punishment in their own country may again face being locked away guilty before proven innocent.
“I’d be very surprised if the Home Office didn’t revisit the Detained Fast Track system,” says S Chelvan, one of the country’s leading asylum lawyers. “They very much consider this the most effective way of dealing with cases they deem to be simple.” 

Although it may only be a matter of months before the centres come back, we shouldn’t ignore the progress made. Before it was ruled unlawful in 2010, gay asylum seekers could be sent back to their country of origin if it was thought it was tolerable to hide their sexuality.

And thanks to Chelvan, gay asylum seekers will never have to prove their sexuality using their knowledge of the Village People, after the Home Office adopted his interview guidelines based on stigma from their societies, rather than crude stereotypes. 

However, real equality is still a long way off for gay asylum seekers. If the LGBT community turns its back on this issue, then thousands will have to return to countries like Uganda, whose homosexuality death penalty was born out of the remnants of British colonial rule.

We must remember that the rainbow flag has a place in every country, no matter how much The Daily Mail has a problem with it. n

Some names of asylum seekers in this article have been changed to protect their identities

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