A petition on the Downing St website calling on the Prime Minister to stop deporting gays and lesbians to countries where they may be imprisoned because of their sexuality has prompted a response from the government.

4,595 people signed the petition.

It argued that “recent cases highlight the extreme danger lesbians and gays face because of their sexuality if deported to a number of countries. Sending people back to their possible death is totally unacceptable.”

In its response the government said the issue was one of “the removal from the UK of gays and lesbians who have been found not to be in need of protection.”

“Enforced returns to any country will only be undertaken where, after very thorough examination of the asylum claim, it is decided that the individual would not be at risk of execution, torture, unjust imprisonment, or other forms of persecution.

“Where an asylum application has been refused, there is a right of appeal to the Asylum Immigration Tribunal or an opportunity to seek judicial review through the higher courts.”

The government also rejected the idea that gay asylum seekers be given an automatic right to stay in the UK.

“The government recognises that the conditions for lesbian and gay people in some countries are such that there may be individuals who are able to demonstrate a need for international protection.

“Instructions to decision-makers are clear that they may qualify for asylum on the grounds of persecution as a member of a particular social group.

“However, there can be no presumption that each and every asylum seeker of a particular nationality who presents themselves as being lesbian or gay should automatically be afforded protection in the UK.

“It is in keeping with the terms of the Refugee Convention that every case is assessed individually on the basis of all the available information against the Refugee Convention and European Convention on Human Rights criteria.”

Last month immigration minister Phil Woolas faced criticism from gay activists after he published a piece on LabourList claiming that the Home Office is fair on LGBT asylum.

“Practically nothing written in the article matches the actual experience of LGBT asylum seekers at the hands of the Home Office and the UK Border Agency,” said campaigner Paul Canning.