The Home Office has published new guidance on the treatment of sexual identity issues in asylum claims following last year’s critical report by Borders and Immigration Chief Inspector John Vine.
The guidance states that Home Office caseworkers must conduct “a sensitive enquiry into the development and exploration of the claimant’s sexual identity and the extent to which it is relevant to the assessment of the need for protection. It should not be an enquiry into any explicit sexual activity.”
The guidance goes on to say: “The asylum interview is a key part of the asylum process because it is the main opportunity for the claimant to provide relevant evidence about why they need international protection and for caseworkers to test that evidence.
“It is important that claimants disclose all relevant information at this stage and that caseworkers fully investigate the key issues through a focused, professional and sensitive approach to questioning, particularly as some evidence may relate to instances of persecution or serious harm, including sexual violence.
“Such evidence is crucial in ensuring that: asylum claims are properly considered; no illogical conclusions are reached; decisions are sound; when protection is granted, it is granted to those who genuinely need it; and protection is refused to those who do not need it.”
The guidance says caseworkers “must not stereotype the behaviour or characteristics of lesbian, gay or bisexual persons” and that “it is important to recognise that some individuals may hold a completely different perception of their own sexual identity from those implied by the term LGB, or may be unaware of labels used in Western cultures.”
The guidance also cites the importance of adhering to key gay asylum rulings made by the UK Supreme Court and the European Court of Justice.
In October, John Vine, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, said in a review that the Home Office “must ensure” caseworkers do not ask gay asylum seekers “sexually explicit questions”.
The Chief Inspector expressed particular concern about the treatment of sexual identity cases in the Detained Fast Track (DFT) process.
Mr Vine found there was inconsistent practice between teams dealing with detained and non-detained applicants. DFT accepted sexually explicit material submitted as evidence, whereas the non-detained areas did not.
A fifth of interviews contained some stereotyping and a tenth contained questions of an unsatisfactory nature.
The review revealed unsatisfactory questions were more than twice as common within the DFT and included questions likely to elicit sexually explicit responses or querying the validity of same-sex relationships.