Lord Avebury writes… Gay asylum-seekers: we’ve come a long way, but much still left to achieve for LGBTI people around the world

It is estimated that worldwide more than 175 million people, some three times the population of the UK, are at risk of persecution because of their sexual orientation. Seventy-six countries criminalise consensual same sex relations, among them 54 countries of the Commonwealth.

Hatred against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people is deeply entrenched in the culture of these countries, and their elected governments reflect the prejudice of the masses. They know that persecuting LGBTI people is contrary to international law, and leads to friction with donor nations.

In the case of Gambia, when EU representatives were due to arrive in January for a routine discussion on human rights issues including the treatment of LGBTI people, President Jammeh ranted on TV that it was ‘an insult to our sovereignty’ that the EU should want to talk about the ‘children of Satan otherwise referred to as homosexuals’.

In Uganda, the offices of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), the umbrella organisation for LGBTI people, were broken into in December and equipment was stolen and damaged. Last June an LGBTI workshop in Kampala was forcibly closed down by the police. These and similar events occur against the background of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill under which the death penalty is prescribed for gay sex.

Many other examples could be cited of the violent prejudice against LGBTI people, often fuelled in Africa by American evangelicals and in the Islamic world by clerics of both Sunni and Shi’a sects.
It is obvious that the victims of persecution arising from the prejudice and hatred that is endemic in these societies may flee their countries, looking for sanctuary abroad. Some manage to reach the UK, where since a court ruling of 1999, a person’s sexual orientation was added to the definition of ‘social group’ to bring gays and lesbians within the scope of the Refugee Convention.

In the Coalition Government’s Equalities Manifesto, we undertook to stop deporting asylum seekers who had to leave their country because their sexual orientation put them at risk of imprisonment, torture or execution.

On the whole, the information provided by the Border Agency to officials deciding LGBTI asylum claims has improved over the years, though it is updated too infrequently.

But the existence of a general state of persecution of a social group, and the applicant’s membership of the group isn’t enough to settle a claim. S/he has to demonstrate that there are grounds for an individual fear of persecution by an agent of the state.

This could be that s/he was unwilling to be open about their gender identity solely because of that fear, according to the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court in 2010. But if the person has no independent evidence of his persecution, there is the risk that the application may be rejected simply because s/he is disbelieved, or that the story doesn’t amount to persecution.

Worse, if the applicant comes from one of the countries perversely certified as safe for men by the Government, even though gays are viciously persecuted there, his claim may be certified as ‘clearly unfounded’ by the Borders Agency, depriving him of a right of appeal. Lesbians still have a right of appeal.

It would be great to see a judicial review application by a gay man against removal, after his claim was certified, on grounds of gender discrimination!

We have come some distance on gay asylum in the last 15 years, but the Borders Agency still gets far too many cases wrong, as we can see from the number of successful appeals. With huge numbers of LGBTI people all over the world at risk, and our own courts still developing the criteria for proving gender identity claims, there is still a long way to go.

* Eric Lubbock, Lord Avebury, is a working peer, and Vice-Chair, Parliamentary Human Rights Group. He blogs here.

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26 Comments

  • I agree that this is a problem, Lord Avebury. but is it your view that these 175 million people are therefore entitled to settle in the UK?

  • Richard Dean 16th Feb '13 - 11:25am

    I wondered the same thing! Also, I thought, what actions are needed to change things in a country? One would be pressure from outside of the country, such as pressure from the UN. But surely this would be ineffective if there was not also pressure from inside? So, would we not be doing countries a disservice by accepting asylum seekers on these grounds. By accepting them in large numbers, do we not remove the internal pressure that is needed for change to happen?

  • @Richard Dean “would we not be doing countries a disservice by accepting asylum seekers on these grounds”

    So are you suggesting that if some one claims asylum because their sexual orientation put them at risk of imprisonment, torture or execution then we deport them and tell them to sort out their own country?

  • Richard Dean 16th Feb '13 - 2:15pm

    This kind of stressful politics is never easy. A difficult balance is needed.

    In the short-term, asylum is a solution for only the person involved. That solution implies the we would be colluding with the country of origin in providing them with a way to remove the internal pressure for change there – in effect we would be helping to maintain the homophobic status quo.

    As pointed out by Richard S, we are unlikely to be able to offer asylum to everyone, so maintaining the homophobic status quo may well do a whole lot more damage in the long term.

  • Mark Inskip 16th Feb '13 - 6:25pm

    @Richard Dean “In the short-term, asylum is a solution for only the person involved. That solution implies the we would be colluding with the country of origin in providing them with a way to remove the internal pressure for change there”

    Colluding with the country of origin!? We would be protecting an individual from potential imprisonment, torture or execution .

    Would you have advocated sending back Tutsis who were fleeing Rwanda, to lobby for change?

    Would you have advocated sending back Jews who were fleeing from Nazi Germany to lobby for change?

  • Richard Dean 16th Feb '13 - 6:35pm

    Shock horror! Real life is not simple!

  • @Richard Dean: granting asylum is “colluding with the country of origin”?? I think we can disprove that quite easily through the fact that the anti-gay laws or proposed laws of some countries (notably Uganda) assert jurisdiction over their nationals living abroad and that extradition would be sought against their nationals living abroad who are accused of homosexual activity. [Of course, the UK would not allow extradition in such cases (I hope!) and the very existence of an extradition request over homosexuality could be taken as evidence of well-founded fear of persecution in an asylum case.]

    I think that in general your assertion is untrue: despotic countries generally seek to keep the people they want to torture inside their borders: the very last thing an authoritarian regime wants is for those it seeks to imprison or torture to escape from the clutches of its authorities. For instance, Nazis sought to prevent Jews from fleeing the Reich. Granting asylum is therefore one way of impeding despots in their agenda, by preventing them from mistreating people they want to mistreat.

  • Richard Dean 17th Feb '13 - 12:41pm

    I wonder if there is any evidence on whether asylum has a positive long-term effect on the country from which someone flees? The most obvious thing it does is reduce the pressure on the despots, by removing some of the persons providing the pressure.

  • Alex Macfie 17th Feb '13 - 1:13pm

    @Richard: You seem to have ignored my point, which is despots typically want to keep the people they seek to persecute in the country (or even, in the case of Uganda and gays, get them back there). One thing granting asylum does is to deprive despots of people to persecute.

  • Richard Dean 17th Feb '13 - 2:12pm

    It deprives despots of people to pressurize them!

  • Richard Dean 17th Feb '13 - 2:35pm

    In fact, the problem in Uganda and many other places is not despotic government at all. Its that the many people in the general population have an aversion to LGBTI people.

    To change a population’s feelings on an issue, you have to change hearts and minds inside the country, and that means that you need to have people arguing the issue inside the country, in the meeting halls and the towns and villages and on TV and in churches.

    The battle is a long-term one. Giving someone asylum removes that person from those places, and so helps to perpetuate the injustice.

  • Alex Macfie 17th Feb '13 - 4:58pm

    @Richard Dean: You assume that most persecuted people have the necessary political skill or wit to argue their case in a hostile social climate, or even that they would have the opportunity to do so. The reality is that most people do not, and furthermore would prefer not to get involved in politics. If someone has teh political nous and desire to fight a dictatorship or social values that they find oppressive, then good luck to them, but it is not reasonable to expect people to do so when all they want to do is live their lives free from persecution. Asking them to go back and fight for their freedom is like asking chickens to use their political skills to persuade Colonel Sanders not to kill, pluck and fry them.

  • Richard Dean 17th Feb '13 - 5:27pm

    So, the people who could and should learn to fight leave to live a good life somewhere else, and what happens to the people left behind?

  • Mark Inskip 17th Feb '13 - 5:36pm

    @Alex Macfie “Asking them to go back and fight for their freedom is like asking chickens to use their political skills to persuade Colonel Sanders not to kill, pluck and fry them.”

    Quite a good analogy. In Uganda homosexual behaviour is illegal and punishable with a 14 year prison sentence. So I suspect Richard Dean’s asylum seeker will have his work cut out on being deported back to “argue the issue inside the country” before being arrested, convicted and thrown into jail. I’m sure he will feel much better however after Richard assures him this is only happening because he has his best interests at heart…..

  • Richard Dean 17th Feb '13 - 6:09pm

    Why is that some people focus on the small, and cannot see the big picture? No-one should expect these things to be easy. Changes like this won’t happen in a country by being forced from outside – that’s the old colonial view which damages the country by delaying its intellectual and social development – something that Libdems surely cannot support? Much of the culture in Uganda (and in many other places) is both valuable and local, so it needs people who are from that culture to change it. Only they can do that effectively and without damaging what is valuable.

  • Richard Dean 17th Feb '13 - 6:23pm

    The rights and freedoms that we have in the UK were not achieved by people leaving the country, but by people staying and fighting for them, including by going to jail. Everyone has a cross to bear, shedding it is no solution.

  • @Richard Dean: It’s all very well arguing that persecuted people should fight their cause from within, but you are arguing from the rather safe, comfortable position of living a country where political liberties are protected and you do not expect to go to jail for expressing your views or for doing stuff with other consenting adults in private. And when the British people were risking jail for fighting for freedom, there wasn’t anywhere else to go. I think you have absolutely no understanding of the reality of the situation that persecuted people in authoritarian regimes face. It is not always possible to “fight” for your rights, and the whole point is that you should not have to fight for them. Asylum seekers do not live a “good life” by any stretch of the imagination. And it is not “colonial” to help people escape from despotic regimes. Your argument seems to be that people who live in a culture where homosexuals are persecuted should have to put up with such persecution: they were born into that culture, so tough on them. That cultural relativism is fundemantally anti-liberal.
    Until such a time as Uganda does have a cultural shift towards acceptance of homosexuality, more enlightened countries should accept gay asylum seekers as, among other things, an indication that we regard Uganda’s attitude as unacceptable — in much the same way as acceptance of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany symbolized our opposition to their persecution.

  • Richard Dean 18th Feb '13 - 12:19am

    I am not actually living in the safe place you think, and I am arguing that things won’t change if people don’t fight for change.

    Giving people a way to avoid fighting may seem like the right thing to do if you focus on one individual who is the asylum seeker, or on a small number, but it can be damaging because it can weaken the collective strength of the larger number of people who remain.

    Put it like this. If, by saving one person, you simply put someone else in the firing line, has your action been good or bad?

  • You won’t get people to fight for change by forcing them back to a country they are trying to escape. You have to want to fight for change (i.e. CHOOSE to do so rather than escape) and have the political nous to do so. Anyway, escaping and fighting for change are not mutually exclusive… Nelson Mandela was originally arrested trying to flee South Africa. It is not a question of saving one person and as a result putting someone else in the firing line. If one of them hadn’t been given asylum, then both of them would have been in the firing line.

  • Richard Dean 18th Feb '13 - 4:23am

    Come on now, lift that cross! You don’t need political nous to fight. You acquire it naturally as a by-product of fighting.

  • Mark Inskip 18th Feb '13 - 7:55am

    @Richard Dean
    Why do you post such daft comments rather than reply to the reasoned arguments that Alex is putting forward?

  • Richard Dean 18th Feb '13 - 1:01pm

    There was nothing daft about my comment. No-one chooses to fight. Evil flourishes when good people don’t fight against it .You fight it because you’re the one who is there.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 19th Feb '13 - 10:14am

    Being Gay in some countries literally means death if outed. Surely we should do all that we can to protect people from persecution, and yes at times this means allowing victims preferential immigration rights.

    As for “The battle is a long-term one. Giving someone asylum removes that person from those places, and so helps to perpetuate the injustice”

    I agree that the battle is a long one, but denying someone asylum can lead to the death of the victim, so just how does this help change an abhorrent system, by them remaining as victims?

    Waiting for an abhorrent Political or Religious system to become more humane by evolution means that countless more people will suffer. Revolution through thought, or physical intervention is a far more swift way to bring about the changes that are required, and this can be assisted by countries such as ours using its considerable economic, legal, and ultimately military influence.

    As Martin Luther King Jnr once said “He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” We have a moral duty to protest!

  • daft h'a'porth 19th Feb '13 - 11:40am

    @Richard Dean
    It doesn’t necessarily have to be the persecuted individuals themselves who fight back locally. The fact that they are no longer directly at risk would seem to leave them in a better position to speak out. Presumably they leave behind them an entire network of friends, colleagues and extended family who may also have something to say and risk less by doing so.

  • Mark Inskip 20th Feb '13 - 8:25pm

    Here’s a relevant story from the BBC today http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-21426632

    And from that story;
    Professor Dawood Rawish, a sociologist from Kabul University, says it is impossible to know how many gay Afghans there are because people are just too scared to take the risk of coming out.

    “This is a big stigma in Afghanistan,” he told the BBC. “People see it as an immoral act… According to the law those involved could be punished by death.”

  • Hi all, am a victim in my country, i cant open my self to any one about my sex orientation
    becuase its punishable by death. Torture, stigma and all bad you can think of is wht i would go
    through if the society new i was gay/bisexual. If some one finds out about it amd doesnt report it, its punishable
    by prison

    its gay hell in my country. I have hidden, I want out for my life. Any help would be welcome.
    Contact me through my e-mail ad

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