PinkNews.co.uk Exclusive

Liberal Democrat Party President, Simon Hughes, attended a demonstration outside the Home Office today to mark the second International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), and raise awareness of the plight of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender asylum seekers.

The bisexual politician briefly addressed the crowd of gay activists, looking to highlight the problems facing asylum seekers who have fled homophobic persecution in countries like Pakistan, Uganda, Sudan, Jamaica, Iran, Belarus, Algeria, Iraq, Nigeria and Egypt.

Mr Hughes, , MP for North Southwark and Bermondsey, told the protesters in London that IDAHO was a “very important” initiative to challenge global homophobia. He criticised the Home Office’s handling of gay and lesbian asylum claims:

“The Refugee Convention does not specifically mention sexuality and therefore we have to make a case to the Home Office for the granting of refugee status on the grounds of sexual orientation.

“I want the Home Office to endorse the idea that lesbians and gay men are a legitimate social group at risk of persecution in many countries.

“It is a shame that 70 years after the Nazi persecution of gay people there is still no proper recognition of those persecuted on the basis of their sexuality,” said Mr Hughes.

Another speaker at the London IDAHO protest was gay Iraqi refugee, Ali Hili, who is OutRage!’s Middle East Affairs spokesman and the coordinator of Iraqi LGBT UK, a group of gay Iraqi exiles who are setting up an underground gay rights network inside Iraq.

Mr Hili said: “The Home office must address the plight of gay Iraqi refugees who are fleeing rising levels of fundamentalist-inspired homophobic violence. These murders of gay people are perpetrated by the Shia militias of the Badr and Sadr factions, as well as by men in Iraqi police uniforms.

“Since the Iraqi government is failing to protect its gay citizens, the Home Office has a duty to be more sympathetic to the plight of gay Iraqi asylum applicants,” said Mr Hili.

The Home Office is being called to account over issues of training on sexual orientation issues for asylum staff and adjudicators, official policy supporting the right of refugees to claim asylum on the grounds of sexual orientation, inaction to stamp out the abuse of LGBT refugees in UK asylum detention camps, information on the victimisation of LGBT people in violently homophobic countries and adequate access to proper legal representation for LGBT asylum applicants

Derek Lennard, UK coordinator of IDAHO, said: “On this International Day Against Homophobia, we want to express support for LGBT people in other countries who are suffering arrest, imprisonment, torture and murder. We are demanding that the UK

government offers refuge from persecution.”

Research by gay rights group, OutRage!, based on its work with LGBT asylum claimants, shows that the Home Office is failing lesbian and gay asylum seekers.

“The Home Office does not explicitly accept persecution on the grounds of sexual orientation as a legitimate basis for gaining asylum,” said Brett Lock of OutRage.

“Low legal aid funding means most LGBT asylum applicants fail becausethey have sub-standard representation at their asylum hearings. The Home Office information on homophobic persecution around the globe is poorly researched and often downplays the true scale of anti-gay victimisation.

“The shocking stories of homophobic abuse and inhumane conditions inside the UK’s asylum detention centres are a national scandal,” he said.

Shadow Immigration Minister, Damian Green, told PinkNews.co.uk: “It goes without saying that all genuine refugees fleeing persecution should be well and properly treated.”

A Home Office spokeswoman told PinkNews.co.uk: “All applications for asylum considered without discrimination and on their individual merits in accordance with the criteria set out in the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

“Under the terms of the Convention a refugee is a person who can demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution in his country of origin for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

“We accept that homosexuals, in certain circumstances, are capable of constituting a particular social group under the terms of the Convention.

“Asylum is granted when the individual demonstrates he or she has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her membership of that particular social group.

“If an applicant’s claim does not meet the criteria set out in the Refugee Convention, consideration will be given as to whether there are other humanitarian or discretionary reasons why they should be allowed to remain in the UK. This reflects our commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

“As far as asylum staff are concerned, sexual orientation issues are covered in asylum training, specifically in interview skills training which focuses on homosexual/transgender applicants who may be fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation.”

Outrage’s Peter Tatchell, IDAHO UK co-ordinator Derek Lennard, Lib Dem MP Simon Hughes, and Iraqi LGBT officer Ali Hili, at the International Day Against Homophobia, 17 May 2006, Home Office, London, UK. “Stop Deporting Gay Refugees – Gay asylum seekers are victims, not criminals” – Protest against Home Office refusal to grant asylum to people fleeing homophobic persecution.