Leila Zadeh is the executive director of the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group
Last week, the high court ordered the Home Office to bring back a Ugandan woman to the UK after ruling that she was treated unfairly in her asylum appeal in the now defunct detained fast-track (DFT) system.
This might be the first time such an obligation has been placed on the Home Office in the case of an LGBTQI+ claimant in the DFT, but it’s far from the first time that an LGBTQI+ person has been treated unfairly in the UK’s asylum system.
The woman, referred to in court documents as “PN”, was removed six years ago to Uganda where her sexuality exposes her to serious risk of persecution and violence. PN came to the UK in 2010, aged 17, and remained in the country after her visa expired. She applied for asylum, saying she feared she would be killed if she returned to Uganda – but her claim was rejected because the Home Office said there was insufficient proof to show that she was a lesbian. Given just two weeks to appeal, she was eventually removed after being unable to produce the extra evidence needed in time.
Around 2,000 people claim asylum each year based on sexual orientation and a fear of persecution in their home country. The Home Office refuses close to four out of five of these claims – a figure that has increased in recent years. We do not know about the number of trans and intersex people claiming asylum or the decisions on those claims because the Home Office does not record this information.
What we do know is that the asylum system is difficult for every single LGBTQI+ person who goes through it. To be recognised as a refugee, they have to prove that they are LGBTQI+, something nobody is required to do at any other time or in any other space. In many cases, the only “evidence” someone has to prove this is their own testimony. They have to talk about the most personal or intimate aspects of their lives in front of a complete stranger, who then decides if they believe them or not. Opening up in such a way is extremely difficult if you have never spoken about your sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics; on top of that you may have been bullied, harassed and abused for years, or been rejected by your family. Read more via Guardian