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New asylum rule for dealing with gay, lesbian asylum seekers’ claims

13th December 2010: The UK Border Agency come out with a new asylum instruction providing decision makers with specific guidance on assessing asylum claims brought on the grounds of an applicant's sexual orientation.

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With the new instructions ready, the UKBA will continue to consider all asylum claims brought on the grounds of sexual orientation on a case-by-case basis. For the purpose, it will examine the situation in the country of origin and the merits of individual cases in line with the Government's coalition programme commitment and a Supreme Court.

The assertion came in response to postcards sent to the Home Secretary, in support of Refugee Action's 'Free To Be Me' campaign to stop returning gay asylum seekers to face persecution.

The UKBA asserted: `The government maintains the country's proud tradition of providing protection to those who need it in accordance with its international obligations and as a world leader in advancing LGB&T equality.

`All asylum and human rights claims are carefully considered on their individual merits in accordance with our obligations under the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and against the background of the latest, accurate, objective, sourced and up-to-date information on asylum seekers' countries of origin produced by the UK Border Agency Country of Origin Information Service.

`UK Border Agency asylum case owners are trained to deal professionally and impartially with all applications, to treat applicants with sensitivity and compassion, and to identify vulnerable individuals in a wide variety of circumstances.

`The UK Border Agency has recently produced a new asylum instruction that provides decision makers with specific guidance on assessing asylum claims brought on the grounds of an applicant's sexual orientation.

`The guidance is being complemented by training which has been developed with the help of partners such as the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG), Stonewall and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

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`Furthermore, our County of Origin Information Service (COIS) has met with Stonewall and UKLGIG to discuss opportunities for further improving the quantity and quality of available usable country of origin information.

`Asylum applicants who are found to be in need of protection will be granted asylum; however if an asylum application is refused, the applicant has a right of appeal to the independent appellate authorities.

`In addition to the scrutiny of the Courts, we have a stringent quality assurance process in place to ensure that decisions are well reasoned and supported by evidence and objective information.

`The UK Border Agency will of course continue to consider all asylum claims brought on the grounds of sexual orientation on a case-by-case basis, examining the situation in the country of origin and the merits of individual cases in line with the Government's coalition programme commitment and Supreme Court judgment of 7 July.

`The UK has a well established programme aimed at advancing LGB&T equality both domestically and around the world. In June 2010 the Government published 'Working for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equality' which outlined commitments on asylum and to use the UK's relationship with other countries to push for unequivocal support for gay rights abroad.

This includes a commitment to proactively question those Commonwealth countries who retain homophobic legislation.

`Turning to the request for all gay asylum seekers to be excluded from the Detained Fast Track process, we do not accept that these cases are necessarily 'complex' but we do believe that, with the new guidance and training, we can help decision makers to make better informed decisions on such cases’, the UKBA concluded.

The assertions is significant as the Home Office was only recently blamed for such asylum seekers to avoid persecution back home by keeping their sexuality secret.

In fact, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had asserted the gay or lesbian asylum seekers were regularly told to go home and keep their sexuality secret to avoid repercussions under the "discretion-test" used by immigration officials and courts since 2006.

As such, the UNHCR said it believed the UK was turning international convention "on its head".

Elaborating, the UNHCR's legal officer in London, Alexandra McDowall, said the “discretion test” introduces an element that shouldn't be there.

It was akin to asking a Jew to hide in the attic to avoid being sent to the concentration camps?

She said it compelled failed gay and lesbian applicants to live under a veil of secrecy back home.

McDowall said people facing threats because of their sexuality were a protected group, alongside those facing religious or political persecution.

Persecution does not cease to be persecution just because an individual can take avoiding action by being discreet, she adds.

Already, a leading UK charity for lesbian and gay asylum seekers has brought to the fore disproportionate levels of rejection for homosexual applicants.

The study of 50 Home Office reason for refusal letters issued from 2005 to 2009 to claimants from 19 different countries claiming asylum on the basis of their sexual identity was conducted by the `UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group’.

The charity promotes equality and dignity by supporting lesbians and gays seeking asylum in the UK

After looking at the decisions of UK Border Agency at interview stage, the group found that although refusal at this stage was high for all asylum applicants, it was much higher for lesbian and gay applicants

In fact, the refusal rate hovered around 73 per cent in 2009, while the refusal of lesbian and gay applicants between 2004 and 2009 was between 98 and 99 per cent.

The group was of the view lesbian and gay asylum seekers already experiencing persecution could face discrimination in the own country.

As of now, a substantial number of them are from countries where homosexuality is unacceptable, including as Iran, Cameroon and other African nations.
 

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