Image: Tim Dinnell, Flickr - Creative Commons 2.0 - Colours editied beyond original by editor
After fleeing prosecution and a life of drawn curtains, LGBT asylum seekers in the UK are continuously struggling with discrimination and legal issues of 'proving' their sexual orientation and gender identity. New numbers from the Home Office reveal the state of the queer refugee as they meet no safe refuge in fortress Britain.
The previous years there has been a sharp rise in asylum claims based on sexual orientation. Just from 2009 to 2014 there was a 400% increase in the UK. According to the annual report by ILGA (International Lesbian and Gay Association) well over 70 countries still criminalise same sex relationships, making up 37% of the UN states, along with an absence of positive legalisation in most parts of the world.
Discrimination in the Name of Equality
Most of the laws prohibiting sexual relations in same sex relationships have either been around since first established under British colonial rule or are based on Sharia Law. Even though these laws have been around in most of this countries for a while, increasingly more and more states criminalise sexual acts between women.
According to a report by the Human Dignity Trust, 44 countries world wide have laws prohibiting sexual relations between women. Having historically only criminalised male homosexuality on basis of British colonial penal codes, several countries has recently responded to criticism of the legal status and ‘equality' of LGBT people by expanding to include women in the discriminatory laws. Leading to 1 in 4 countries now prohibiting being a lesbian or bisexual woman, with numbers increasing.
The report found that in for example in Botswana, who merely a few years prior to independence from British colonial rule implemented the laws, a court recently found that "a gross indecency law that only applied to male homosexuals, and not female homosexuals, was discriminatory, but that the discrimination was rectified when the provision was made gender-neutral".
In countries criminalising same-sex relations, people often face discrimination and exclusion from society. Even in coutries not prosecuting individuals, the state often fails to protect, and at times support hate crime, when LGBT people when encountering violence in their local communities.
Fighting for Protection
The Home Office recently released the first experimental statistics on asylum claims based on sexual orientation, covering the period of June 2015 to March 2017.
Outcomes of asylum claims based on sexual orientaion
Data: Home Office
The numbers reveal the vast majority of the claims were either from the African continent or parts of southern Asia, with Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria coming out of the statistics as the top-three applicants. In parts of Nigeria, same-sex relations are possibly punishable by death, and in Pakistan it is legally punishable by death though not commonly implemented.
The nationalities with the highest proportion of total asylum claims based on sexual orientation were Uganda with 67%, Cameroon with 38% and the United Republic of Tanzania with 32% of all claims being based on identifying as LGBT.
Though despite this, LGBT asylum seekers in the UK continues to face a system not suited for their needs.
Survival of the Queerest
A qualitative study of LGBT asylum seekers in the UK done by Stonewall, found horrifying accounts of the experience of individuals claiming asylum and their experience in detention centres, many being harassed and not believed on their sexuality claims. Vani, an asylum seeker from India, said " The interviewing officer was surprised to see a person like me talking about these things. He doesn't believe I am transgender. 'You don't look transgender!".
Another, Meriba from Uganda, reported "It felt like I was deprived of getting this evidence together, which is the reasons why actually I had my refusal. The first reason they gave was ‘you couldn't get your statement from your partner' but how am I going to do this when you've detained me?".
Several others reported their case being judged on their appearance and stereotypes, with one person saying "That's how it is: ‘how much of a lesbian are you? Do you go to gay clubs? Do you hang around with other lesbians?". Especially people identifying as bisexual were being questioned on their sexual history with opposite sex.
There is no need to look far out of the detention centres for similar accounts of disbelief. In 2015, a lesbian woman was at risk of being deported to Nigeria, despite evidence, as she according to a Home Office barrister had "indulged in same-sex activity ", but was "not part of the social group known as lesbians".
Seeking safe haven, meeting walls
Out of all the claims based on sexual orientation in the period between June 2015 and March 2017, only 25% were granted asylum, a total of 814 grants. There were 21% more grants when looking at the total of all asylum claims in the UK in the same period.
Being from a group prosecuted around the world the implications of a refusal, often based on bigoted perceptions of security, can mean having to juggle life or death situations. Being deported back to the sending countries is often not an option, leading to reports of trauma and attempts suicide. And chances of having your asylum claim accepted are not necessarily linked to the possible prosecution faced upon deportation.
Chance of rejection by nationality
Data: Home Office
During a PMQ last autumn, the May Government and the Home Office was accused of sending LGBTI people back to countries with strict penalties for homosexuality, telling them to ‘act straight'.
A common signifier for the nationalities with more than 80 refusal on their claims, is the legal and civil society's negative attitudes and prosecution of LGBT people. What will meet them if they are deported?
Average popular opinion amongst Top 10 refused countries*
Data: ILGA (*Data covering Nigeria, Uganda, Ghana, India, Iraq and Zimbabwe. Bangladesh, Iran, Cameroon and Albania not surveyed)
Pakistani nationals had a total of 700 refusals. In Pakistan, same-sex relations between men are illegal, and death penalty codified in the law, though not implemented specifically for same-sex relations it is deemed ‘against the order of nature' and LGBT people can be sentenced for up to 14 years in prison.
In 2014, three gay men were killed by a serial killer due to their sexual orientation. Pakistani media still did not condemn the killings, and depicted the serial killer as being in the right.
Upon surveyed on attitudes in the country by the ILGA, 54% of Pakistanis agreed to some extent on that being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual or intersex should be a crime. 61% agreed that same-sex desire is a western phenomenon.
Bangladesh saw 347 of its nationals being refused asylum on LGBT grounds, and same-sex relations are illegal if you are male. Only independent from Pakistan some decades ago, and previously under British rule, Bangladesh has the same colonial penal codes as Pakistan, with homosexuality being considered an unnatural offence. Offences can be punished with up to 14 years imprisonment.
In 2015, author Avijit Roy was murdered on the streets by religious fundamentalists after publishing the first scientific book on same-sex sexual identity in the country.
268 Nigerian nationals were refused asylum in the period. In 12 of the Nigerian states, especially in the northern parts of the country, same-sex relations are punishable by death under Sharia law for both men and women. A new law from 2014 also states that any public show of same-sex relations or are part of a gay organisation can be punished with up to 10 years in prison.
In August 2017, Lagos State arrested 42 men for homosexuality. According a review in May 2016 by The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERS), 232 people were violated against.
In the ILGA survey, 59% of the population agreed being LGBTI should be a crime, and 62% thought same sex marriage should be illegal.
Nationals of Uganda had a 55% chance of having their claim met, yet 108 people were refused asylum. Same-sex acts are illegal for both men and women, and is like all of the above considered an ‘unnatural offence'. If sentenced, you're looking at 15 years to life in prison.
There is no legal protection against discrimination, and is the most conservative in the ILGA survey, with 53% of the population believing being LGBTI should be a crime.
In December 2017, the police raided and closed down a queer film festilval in Kampala, and earlier in the year the government cancelled the planned Pride festival in the capital.
The 90 people who had their asylum claims rejected are due to meet a possibility of up to seven years in prison upon deportation. Same-sex relations are considered against nature, but are only punishable for men.
54% of the population believed being LGBTI should be a crime, and 42% believe consensual adults should not be allowed to have same-sex relations. Further, half of the population believes same-sex desire is a western phenomenon.
Amnesty International estimates that 5000 gay and lesbian people have been executed since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, infamously executing two men for consensual homosexual relations in 2014. Yet the UK has refused 84 claims based on sexual orientation. In 2016, a gay teenage boy was hanged in the Markazi province.
Death penalty is codified under Sharia law for both men and women, and is implemented country wide. Same-sex relations are considered sodomy and indecency in the country, and there has been several arrests the past few years.
Indian nationals is yet to have any of their 94 claims of asylum based on grounds of sexual orientation met in the UK. Same-sex relations has been illegal since Colonial rule, and despite legally only being applicable to men, women in India face the same prosecutions, according to ILGA. The punishment – imprisonment from 15 years to life.
31% of Indians think being LGBTI should be a crime, but the morality stands above the law, with 35% thinking people should not be allowed to have consensual same-sex relations.