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Fleeing homophobia, every year 10,000 LGBTI asylum claims in Europe

First-ever EU-wide report reveals worrying trends in state responses to claims for asylum on the basis of LGBTI persecution.

Claims filed by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTI) asylum seekers who are fleeing persecution and discrimination in their countries of origin are treated differently across the 27 states of the European Union, reveals 'Fleeing Homophobia', the first-ever EU-wide comparative study recently released by Sabine Jansen and Thomas Spijkerboer.

"We can estimate that every year the European Union receives 10,000 claims by LGBTI asylum seekers. The estimates are based on data from Belgium, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, as data from other EU countries is scarse," said Simone Rossi, lawyer of the Italian Advocacy for LGBT Rights – Lenford Network, quoting the results of the Fleeing Homophobia research.

Co-financed by the European Fund for Refugees and conducted by the University of Amsterdam, COC Netherlands, Hungarian Helsinki Committee, Advocacy for LGBT-Rights Network Lenford and European Council on Refugees and Exiles, this is the first comparative research ever undertaken on the way LGBTI asylum claims are examined across Europe.

The report shows how, far from a Common European Asylum System with a uniform status,  a common European standard in the application of refugee law is sadly lacking. This is a problematic issue, as the Dublin system, whereby only one EU Member State examines an asylum application, theoretically implies a common standard, which in fact does not exist.

The comparative study reveals that, on a number of points, European State practice is below the standards required by international and European human rights and refugee law.

European practice clearly shows that national authorities in many instances rely on stereotypes when examining LGBTI asylum applications.

These stereotypes exclude persecuted bisexuals from international protection, in addition to other LGBTI people who do not behave in accordance with the stereotypes used by decision makers: lesbians who do not behave in a masculine way, non-effeminate gays, and LGBTI applicants who have been married or who have children.

Legal decisions still frequently rely on the idea that the sexual orientation of an asylum seeker is only to be taken seriously when the applicant has an ‘overwhelming and irreversible’ inner urge to have sex with a person of the same gender.

Furthermore, the fundamental character of the relevant human rights for LGBTI individuals is frequently denied in the asylum practice of European States. On a regular basis, LGBTI asylum seekers are returned to their country of origin because they purportedly can prevent persecution by concealing their identity.

This denies, for LGBTI applicants, the fundamental notion which is at the heart of refugee law: if people have a well-founded fear of being persecuted on account of the legitimate exercise of a human right, they are entitled to international protection.

Recent UK case law has found that such an expectation runs counter to a person's fundamental human rights.

To require them to renounce their human rights in order to be ‘protected’ negates the function of such rights, claim the researchers.

Similarly, LGB asylum applicants are regularly returned to countries where they have a well-founded fear of being imprisoned or sentenced to death for engaging in sexual activities with a person of the same gender. A further example is that serious human rights violations against trans people, occurring on a large scale in many parts of the world, often do not lead to asylum.

Since the statistics in the field are unreliable, it is impossible to say how many LGBTI asylum seekers are in Europe nor where they come from. However, based on the examples cited by the national experts interviewed for 'Fleeing Homophobia', they are thought to come from at least 104 different countries.

The problems of these asylum seekers have only receiving recently been given attention. In 2008, UNHCR published its Guidelines on applications for refugee status related to sexual orientation and gender identity. In June 2011 the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe published a report on the discrimination suffered by LGBTI people.

Finally, the researchers point their finger at how the patterns of persecution of lesbian, transgender and intersex people are less highlighted than those of gay men. When the Ugandan gay activist David Kato was killed on January 26, 2011, media, civil society organizations and officials immediately came to know of and condemned the murder.

However, not many know the number of trans persons murdered around the world: from January 2008 to December 2010 there were 539 reported deaths of murdered trans persons. Many others were not even reported.

Download the report: Fleeing Homophobia

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