Asylum system continues to fail LGBT people

I developed a passionate dislike of the Home Office during the 4 years I was an MP’s caseworker. The lack of compassion, fairness, justice in the system made me furious. They frequently didn’t bother following their own policies.

One of the most shameful things the last Labour government did was to tell LGBT asylum seekers that they really didn’t have to come here. Of course not. They could just go back to their home country and be discreet.

Of course, Liberal Democrats in the Home Office have stopped all that nonsense, haven’t we?

Errr…..no. Since we ended child detention for immigration purposes, it’s hard to see how we have been able to improve the asylum and immigration service to make it more humane. And we are still sending people back to countries where they will be in real danger and telling them to live discreetly.

Even worse, we aren’t taking the word of people that they are gay, even when they are in a long term relationship. The Leicester Mercury has the appalling story of John Ssenkindu who has been refused asylum here and faces being deported back to Uganda, one of the most brutal places in the world for gay people. His appeal will be heard next month.

The 43-year-old came to the UK and applied for asylum on the grounds he faced persecution, imprisonment and, he fears, death in his home country.

His application was rejected, he says, because the Home Office was not satisfied he had proved he was gay.

He now faces an appeal hearing at which he hopes his evidence will be accepted.

He said: “The Home Office is asking me to prove that I am gay. How do you prove your sexual orientation?

It is not safe for me to return to Uganda.

I have had the best time of my life here in Leicester, living as who I am without feeling any threat.

If I was to be sent back I would be arrested immediately because they would know why I had applied for asylum in the UK.
Pink News reported a few months ago of concerns raised by an independent investigator about the way that the Home Office dealt with LGBT people seeking asylum:
The Chief Inspector expressed particular concern about the treatment of sexual identity cases in the Detained Fast Track (DFT) process.

Earlier this summer, the High Court ruled that fast track detention, a system used to process the vast majority of cases, was “unlawful”.

Sir John found there was inconsistent practice between teams dealing with detained and non-detained applicants. DFT accepted sexually explicit material submitted as evidence, whereas the non-detained areas did not.

The review revealed unsatisfactory questions were more than twice as common within the DFT and included questions likely to elicit sexually explicit responses or querying the validity of same-sex relationships.

We are talking about less than 300 people a year who seek asylum here because they are gay. That’s out of 20,000 asylum seekers. We only let just over 100 stay here. That is simply not good enough.

Last night I spoke to Mathew Hulbert, a contributor to this site, Lib Dem Councillor and a Director of the Leicester LGBT Centre which is helping John. He told me:

The Home Office is acting in a way contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights and we call on them to have some compassion and reverse this really rather offensive diktat. To threaten to send someone back to a country, which would almost certainly jail or kill them, for failing to ‘prove’ their inner most feelings is disgraceful.

This should not be happening with Liberal Democrats in Government. There is no way that I can imagine either Norman Baker or Lynne Featherstone, our most recent Home Office ministers, being happy with this situation. This dreadful treatment of LGBT people needs to stop before the election.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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8 Comments

  • Helen Tedcastle 17th Jan '15 - 2:06pm

    I would hope this party cares for the welfare of all genuine asylum seekers, gay or straight.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 17th Jan '15 - 3:43pm

    Indeed, Helen, but there seems to be an added injustice against LGBT people, Helen.

  • Sadly we are hearing very little about the big human rights issues of the day from our leaders and so people who care about such things seem to be drifting back to Labour (who certainly don’t deserve them) and the Greens. Last poll I saw suggested that only 7% of students plan to vote for us at the May election. Could there be a connection?

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 18th Jan '15 - 10:42am

    Caron,

    I share your concerns about the lack of “compassion, fairness, justice in the system”, as I have and continue to work with asylum and other migrants who are left abandoned by the current mechanism.

    As for drifting back to Labour, well I believe that the Liberal Democrat Party possesses the core principles that means that we can, and will return to our commitment for genuine social and welfare reform once we have rid ourselves of the necessity (as some may see it) to patronise odious Tory policies.

    Although over the last term, the Liberal Democrat Party has achieved much in thwarting the draconian ways of the Tories, this gives the impression that we have abandoned our social conscience. Although small minority in the Party, may desire power for the sake of power, and will do anything to retain it, overall this is not the reality, hence I am committed to remaining so long as the candle of hope remains lit that things will change for the better.

    The Right is on the rise again, and with it, many of us have much to be concerned about, and as such the Liberal Democrat Party is needed even more, to bring a back a balance to the ever increasing opposing and hostile arguments.

    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera
    Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats – Vice Chair

  • Nick did mention a human rights issue on the Marr show this morning – the Saudi blogger. He strongly criticised Saudi Arabia while making it clear that they were an important ally. There are other instances of important allies who we could do more to influence. For instance Bahrain which is kindly funding a new base for us, apparently as a reward for not being too harsh in our criticism of their continuing harassment of any dissenters. And then of course there’s Israel that continues to lay siege to Gaza and ensure winter misery and hardship for those whose homes it destroyed last summer, and has continued to kill and arrest teenagers in the West Bank with seeming impunity.

    But back home I couldn’t agree more with Caron about the Home Office. In the last 50 years only one Home Secretary managed in any way to get a grip on the inhumanity of that Ministry and that was Roy Jenkins. Natalie Bennett of the Greens (also on the Marr show this morning) pointed out that Germany has so far taken in 20,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees while the UK has taken 90. Says it all really.

    Maybe a condition of any future coalition should be that the Home Secretary has to be a Lib Dem!

  • Jayne Mansfield 18th Jan '15 - 12:41pm

    When Local authorities take more refugees, they need money to resettle them properly. Is this happening?
    It seems to me that we are getting big words from national politicians but they are not prepared to make the funding available to make these admirable ideas a reality. I believe that there have been argument in Sheffield about this.

    In what way does an ally work against everything we believe in whilst remaining an ally, or do human rights stop at the European borders?

  • Jayne Mansfield 18th Jan '15 - 1:01pm

    @ R Uderwerage- Perera,
    I’s sorry but the terrifying rise of the Right is taking place in Britain under your parties watch. That it is happening across Europe does not excuse this government one little bit.

    The Go Home vans happened whilst Liberal Democrats were in government and it is just one shameful example of a mistaken belief that one can appease extremists from any quarter.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 18th Jan '15 - 7:11pm

    @Jayne Mansfield

    I am making no excuses for, nor will I apologise for the actions of people who have acted in an illiberal manner, and you will be aware from reading these very pages that many within the Liberal Democrat Party have spoken out against the abuses that have happened during the term of this Coalition.

    Along with others within the Liberal Democrat Party, and even more externally I work with migrants, and I am horrified by their experiences, and thankfully I can assure you that there exist groups such as the Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary who are ceaseless in their campaign to bring such matters to the fore.

    I appreciate that this will not be enough, but we are building a critical mass, and this year I believe you will witness a noticeable change of direction and a return to our core values.

    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera
    Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats – Vice Chair

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