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Lesbian sisters fear death in Pakistan after new asylum application is rejected

Emma Powys Maurice March 10, 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 are now in fear for their lives after their latest asylum application was rejected by the UK Home Office.

Samina Iqbal, 52, and Nazia Iqbal, 48, had been living in Stockport in Manchester since 2010, but are originally from Sahiwal in north-eastern Pakistan. They have both been publicly out for 20 years but their sexuality was not widely known by their family in the UK or in Pakistan.

Their previous asylum application was rejected by a judge who said it was not “credible” that they are gay. They were due to be deported last month, but the Home Office backtracked at the last minute after being questioned by Sky News.

They are currently being held in the notorious Yarl’s Wood immigration centre. Today they face a bail hearing where they have the last opportunity to block a deportation to Pakistan.

Having lost their appeal last year, they lost the right to a further one unless they could present any new information. However, their lawyer argues that by speaking to the press, the sisters have made their sexuality public knowledge, which would put them in serious risk if they were to return to Pakistan.

Mohammed Akhtar told Sky News: “Nazia and Samina are facing persecution if they are sent back to Pakistan. They have spoken openly about their sexuality and are the focus of a number of international news agencies.

“I don’t know what will convince the courts of their sexual orientation, one cannot be more out than on a public platform with their photographs plastered all over the internet, there have already been threats and messages been sent to the girls brother-in-law via WhatsApp.”

Sky News has obtained messages to the sisters which directly threaten their lives. “Broken glasses of the window and knocks on the door is a prove [sic] that we are not afraid to give harm to you,” reads one, referencing threats the sisters received in Pakistan. “You both are females who cannot do anything with us.

“Leave these things to do otherwise I will send death sentence at the place of this message.”

Another one calls the Iqbals “shameless” and warns “we will kill you and get blessings.”

The Home Office would not comment on why the new information was not allowed to be included in the bid for a new submission.

‘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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