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Lesbian sisters temporarily saved from deportation after asylum judge said their sexuality wasn’t ‘credible’

Emma Powys Maurice February 27, 2020
Lesbian sisters escape deportation after asylum judge rejected them

Lesbian sisters Nazia (left) and Samina Iqbal have been moved to the Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre (Sky News)

Two lesbian sisters who fled Pakistan have narrowly escaped deportation after an asylum judge initially rejected their case because he believed it was not “credible” that they are gay.

Samina, 52, and Nazia Iqbal, 48, have been living in Stockport in Manchester since 2010, but are originally from Sahiwal in north-eastern Pakistan.

They were due to be deported on Saturday night, but the Home Office backtracked at the last minute after being questioned by Sky News. The sisters were given no information about this and only realised they weren’t being put on the flight when journalists informed them that the plane had already taken off.

Their status remains insecure though, as they have now been moved to the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre where they await a bail hearing on Tuesday.

“We are scared. We have been so upset, crying and don’t feel like [we want] anything to eat or drink,” Samina told Sky News from the immigration centre.

When asked what she fears will happen to her and her sister if they are forced to return to Pakistan, she answered bluntly: “Threats to our lives and rape.”

In a joint statement through their lawyer, the sisters said: “We both knew we were gay all our lives but we couldn’t accept it as it would have put our parents in hardship in Pakistan, and we couldn’t see the shame in our parents’ eyes for us.”

After the death of their parents 20 years ago the sisters both came out to each other and began to date women, with great caution.

“After this we did pursue relationships and tried to keep it secret [but] it made us feel like we were criminals and unclean, we had to maintain our distance in public and enter through back doors to see our partners,” they said.

When they reached an age that their community would expect them to be married or at least be in relationships with men, people “started putting two and two together and started talking”.

They said: “It was soon after this that we started receiving threats and death threats being posted through our door. We had our windows broken and our partners moved away after their houses were broken into. We lived in fear.”

It was at this point that they made the decision to move to the UK, while still keeping their sexuality a secret from their wider family. They didn’t come out to them until 2018 when they learned they could be forced to leave the UK.

‘Culture of disbelief’ in lesbian and other LGBT+ asylum claims

LGBT-related asylum claims, including people who are lesbian, are less likely to be approved by the UK Home Office than the national average, and between 2017 and 2015 the rate of people granted asylum on the basis of sexual orientation fell from 39 percent to 22 percent.

LGBT+ rights campaigners have long complained of a “culture of disbelief” in the Home Office’s treatment of LGBT+ asylum seekers. They accuse the government of not giving queer people fair and equal treatment, resulting in a decrease of applications being accepted.

Over the past few years many stories have emerged supporting this claim, including the case of one man who was rejected as he did not have a gay “demeanour” and did not “look around the room in an effeminate manner”.

The Iqbals’ lawyer alluded to this issue in a statement to Sky News. “There is a trend of rejecting applications for asylum for members of the LGBTQ community who originate from South Asia or Africa,” he noted.

“Judges are basing decisions on how a person looks or acts without giving context to a person’s culture and environment and the stigma attached to one’s sexuality in those communities.”

 

More: Home Office, lesbian, lgbt asylum, Pakistan, refugees

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