28 Mar 2014

Is the UK doing enough for gay asylum seekers?

Gay and lesbian asylum seekers in Britain can face intimate sexual questions to “prove” their sexuality – and even then many are not allowed to stay in the country.

Prossy Kakooza, Ugandan refugee and campaigner

“I’m a Ugandan refugee and claimed asylum in 2007 after spending time in a Ugandan prison because of my sexuality. I had been badly assaulted and my injuries were still visible on arrival. I went to my local walk in centre for treatment, but they called the police because of the extent of my injuries. I got doctor’s letters and police forensic photos that confirmed that what I said corresponded with my injuries.

The humiliation of having to describe what you like in the bedroom, how many people you’ve slept with and turning your whole life into being all about sex.

“But even then, my asylum claim was dismissed as a “random attack of unruly police officers and nothing to do with sexuality”. Such is the dismissal for LGBT asylum seekers. The humiliation of having to describe what you like in the bedroom, how many people you’ve slept with and turning your whole life into being all about sex. The Home Office need to look at individual cases and train their reps to ask appropriate questions in line with the country of origin and circumstances.”

Stuart Hanson, founder of No Going Back

“With clients I’ve seen, some feel they have to submit photos. I’ve said you don’t need to do this to prove your sexuality – it’s about relationships, all sorts of other aspects of your life – but they feel they have to, and it’s quite worrying that they feel this need to submit explicit photos to be believed.

“It’s strange because if you look at how the Home Office processes other claims – for example, if you are married or have a civil partnership with a foreign national from outside the EU – no-one thinks they have to show explicit photos. It’s a photo album of your holiday in Majorca or something. That satisfies them. I work in private practice and charity, and I have never come across these horrific questions in private practice.

“The Home Office isn’t homophobic. But what I do believe is that the Home Office does not have a good understanding of what it is to be a gay man or woman from Africa.”

Home Office statement 
A Home Office spokesperson said: "The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need it and we do not deport anyone at risk of persecution because of their sexuality. All applicants are required to establish they face persecution, inhumane or degrading treatment in their home country to qualify for our protection.

"We deal with any matters concerning an individual's sexual orientation as sensitively as possible and staff are not permitted to ask inappropriate or intrusive questions."

Adoronke Apata, Nigerian activist seeking refugee status in the UK

“Each time I remember, my heart jumps and I’m like, oh my God, I’m going to be faced with death, with 14 years’ imprisonment,” she says, recalling when she was sentenced to death by stoning back in Nigeria. A petition for her case has gathered 23,000 signatures.

“And not just me – people who know me would also face jail time for not reporting me. It’s so scary. In fact, it’s not an option – I don’t have an option – I can’t go back to Nigeria.

“People have told me that they have gone to the extent of producing video of themselves and their partner making love to show to the Home Office to be able to prove their sexuality and I think that is homophobic. It is degrading. I can’t see myself planting a video camera somewhere and then recording how we make love in the room and then show it to an official to look at it.”