Calls for urgent review of LGBT asylum protections after shocking lapses exposed
The UK government is facing calls for an urgent review of conditions for LGBT asylum seekers, after allegations about shocking treatment inside accommodation facilities.
The Guardian today published claims that private companies managing asylum accommodation in the UK on behalf of the government are failing to respond to reports of threats and violence directed at LGBT asylum seekers, many of whom have already fled from persecution based on sexual orientation or gender identity in their home countries.
Private companies including G4S and Serco hold government contracts for asylum centres in the UK – where LGBT asylum seekers allege that authorities have failed to act on reports of homophobic and transphobic incidents.
One woman filmed a homophobic incident on camera – only to be told nothing would be done.
Following the reports, MPs have called for an urgent review of the asylum system.
In a statement to PinkNews, Ed Davey, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson, said: “These reports are extremely concerning. LGBTI asylum seekers are some of the most vulnerable and marginalised individuals in our communities.
“They deserve our protection and support and are clearly being let down by the system.
“The Government must immediately review the procedures in place to ensure that they effectively respond where concerns are raised and look at how, by working with private contractors, these terrible situations can be avoided in the first place.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Home Office and our accommodation providers take complaints extremely seriously and have robust procedures in place to inspect, investigate and resolve any complaints raised, where specific information is provided.”
In a statement to the Guardian, G4S managing director John Whitwam said: “The footage shown to us [by the Guardian] was extremely concerning and we are contacting the service users involved.
“We have raised an incident report with the Home Office and we are in urgent discussions around the options for relocation.”
The last review of the way LGBT asylum seekers are treated was ordered by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary.
The report recommended a number of changes to protect LGBT people inside the asylum system – but campaigners say that the review led to little change in the treatment towards LGBT asylum seekers inside the decision system itself.
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 LGBT asylum seekers have been scheduled for deportation and told to go home and ‘act straight’.
Data obtained by PinkNews earlier this year revealed that thousands of gay, lesbian and bisexual asylum seekers have been refused asylum from countries where they could face prison, violence, or death.
PinkNews had filed a Freedom of Information Act request in 2016, seeking to force the Home Office to publish data on gay, lesbian and bisexual asylum claims for the first time.
The request asking the government to confirm the number of people claiming asylum in the last 12 months who did so on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, the number of such claims granted, and the number of such claims refused.
Although the request would usually compel the Home Office to respond within 20 days, the department pushed back the deadline repeatedly under a qualified exemption that relates to disclosures “inhibiting the free and frank provision of advice”.
The Home Office now finally provided the data in January 2018, more than a full year after the request was submitted.
The data confirmed that 1,436 people attempted to claim asylum relating to sexual orientation between 1 October 2015 and 30 September 2016, but just 289 applications were granted.
Meanwhile, 802 cases were rejected, amounting to nearly three-quarters of cases with decisions.
The department added: “We apologise for the delay in dispatching your requested information.”
The Home Office provided the data to PinkNews only after the voluntary publication of a report on LGBT asylum claims.
That report covered a period of time between July 2015 and 31 March 2017 – and showed that thousands of gay and lesbian asylum seekers have been turned away from the UK.
A total of 3,535 asylum applications were made by people fleeing persecution at least partly based on their sexual orientation, amounting to six percent of asylum claims.
However, more than two-thirds of these were rejected.
Of cases with a clear resolution, 2,379 claims were rejected, and just 838 approved.
The data also shows that asylum claims were rejected from gay people who fled persecution under some of the most violent homophobic regimes on the planet.
Eighty-four people from Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by death, were denied asylum – nearly half of all of those who applied.
The Home Office accepted just 63 gay asylum seekers from Nigeria, where gay people can face extreme violence or decades in jail and 268 gay Nigerians were turned away.
Applications were also rejected from 108 gay asylum seekers fleeing Uganda, where gay sex is punishable by seven years in prison.
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Not a single applicant from India or Sri Lanka, where homosexuality is a crime, was accepted – despite 82 and 48 applications respectively.
The majority of asylum seekers from Iraq, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Jamaica were also turned away.
Speaking at the PinkNews Awards last year, Prime Minister Theresa May said: “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.”