Prime Minister Theresa May challenged over deportation of LGBT asylum seekers
Prime Minister Theresa May has been challenged in Parliament over the deportation of LGBT asylum seekers.
People can seek asylum in the UK on the grounds that they face persecution in their home country because of their sexuality or their gender identity.
However, the Home Office procedures for processing LGBT asylum seekers has been repeatedly criticised by campaigners over inconsistent standards that “humiliate” applicants, and often leave people facing deportation to countries where they face persecution for their sexuality.
One lesbian asylum seeker was told she couldn’t be gay because she has children, while another asylum seeker was compelled to show caseworkers explicit pictures of himself having gay sex to ‘prove’ his sexuality. Another bisexual man, who fled from persecution in his home country, had his application challenged by the Home Office because he said the T in LGBT stood for ‘Trans’ as opposed to ‘Transgender’.
Many have been scheduled for deportation and told to go home and ‘act straight’.
Out MP Joanna Cherry raised the issue during Prime Minister’s Questions this week, off the back of the Prime Minister’s landmark appearance at the PinkNews Awards, where she declared that “LGBT rights are human rights”.
Ms Cherry said: “We can all agree that no one should ever be persecuted on account of their sexuality.
“Last week at the PinkNews Awards, the Prime Minister said we have come a long way on LGBT rights, but there’s still much more to do.
“Can I ask her to start that work today by promising that never again will the Home Office deport LGBT Asylum Seekers to countries where they are likely to be persecuted with the instruction that they pretend to be straight?”
The Prime Minister did not provide a direct assurance in her response.
She responded: “Can I say to the honourable lady that this is an issue that we take seriously, and I think I’m right in saying that it was a Conservative government that actually changed the rules on Asylum seeking to introduce the category of those who could face persecution in their home of origin because of their sexuality.”
She added: “I’m pleased that this was able to be done and I want the Home Office treats all the cases with the sensitivity that is appropriate.”
As the former Home Secretary, Theresa May was directly responsible for overseeing the system.
A court ruling earlier this year suggested that under Mrs May’s leadership, the Home Office may have illegally deported gay asylums seekers.
The UK government has also repeatedly refused to disclose how many asylum applications it has actually accepted from LGBT people fleeing homophobic countries.
Earlier this year Lib Dem peer Lord Scriven tabled a question in the House of Lords to ask the Government to reveal “how many people claiming asylum in the last year did so on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity; and of those, how many have been granted asylum”.
However, Home Office minister Baroness Williams of Trafford refused to release the data – confirming the government does collect data on LGBT asylum seekers, but claiming it cannot be published due to “quality assurance” reasons.
The minister said: “I can say that the Home Office collects information that records whether a claim is based on sexual orientation… [however] the data are management information only, and they do not form part of our published statistics because they have not been quality assured to a sufficient standard.”
She claimed: “The Home Office is considering how data from its casework database may be assured and used to provide such information to a sufficiently accurate standard.”
Responding to a follow-up question about why the data cannot be made public, she claimed: “We do not feel that the management data are as yet sufficiently robust.”
The government was slammed by several peers for the comments.
Baroness Barker accused the Home Office of “sitting on this information for two years”, adding: “How many LGBT people have claimed asylum on the basis of their sexual orientation and how many of them have been denied?”
Labour’s Lord Cashman urged the government to work with the UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group and Stonewall to address urgent concerns about the system.
When Lord Paddick asked “how this House can hold the Government to account if they refuse to publish the figures?”, Baroness Williams responded: ” I can only repeat the answer that I have now given three times.”
Speaking at the PinkNews Awards last week, the Prime Minister said: Britain has come far in fifty years, but we know there is still a long way to go.
Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia have still not been defeated, and they must be.”
She added: “When we look around the world, we see countries where the human rights of LGBT people are denied and terrible suffering is the result.
“On the world stage, we are standing up for LGBT rights, and challenging at the highest level those governments which allow or inflict discrimination or abuse.
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“The anti-LGBT laws which remain in some Commonwealth countries are a legacy of Britain’s colonial past, so the UK Government has a special responsibility to help change hearts and minds and we will ensure that these important issues are discussed at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, which we will be hosting here in London next April and also during our two years as Commonwealth Chair in Office.”
She added: “So, let me be absolutely clear. We have come a long way – but there is much still to do.
“The Government has a plan to deliver, and I am committed to ensuring that we work that through.
“Because LGBT history is all our history, LGBT success is everyone’s success, and LGBT rights are human rights.”