LGBTQI+ asylum seekers

In August 2019, a UK immigration judge reportedly rejected the asylum claim of a homosexual person from Nigeria where same-sex acts are illegal, stating that he did not have a “gay demeanour”. The interviewer said to him: “You don’t look gay, you look like any other man, why should I believe that you are?”

A lesbian fleeing from Uganda fought a long legal battle to claim asylum in the UK earlier this decade. She was forcefully married in her home country where homosexuality remains a crime. Her claim was initially rejected as ‘she had a husband and therefore she could not be a lesbian’.

A gay rugby player from Kenya seeking asylum faced deportation from the UK last year. He was reportedly told that ‘although gay sex in Kenya was punishable by up to 21 years in prison, this law is rarely applied and the objective evidence does not establish that LGBT persons are likely to be subjected to serious harm.’

These three cases are amongst the thousands of asylum claims that the UK Home Office receives from vulnerable minority groups facing oppression in their home countries. According to a report in The Guardian, the Home Office is said to have rejected about 3100 asylum claims from LGBTQI+ nationals where consensual same-sex acts are criminalised.

For a country that prides itself in protecting sexual minorities fleeing persecution based on sexual orientation, the UK only approved 22% of such asylum claims in 2017.

Most of these rejections have been arbitrary, discriminatory, and arguably rooted in a narrow, stereotypical perception of LGBTQI+ persons. Dismissed of their cultural background, the applicants are sexualised and often have to answer humiliating and personal questions about their choices.

They are also expected to live up to visible stereotypes generally associated with the LGBTQI+ people. Notions of fluidity and innate nature unique to every person are conveniently ignored.

As Immigration Law Solicitor Danielle Cohen writes in this report, there is an ‘over-emphasis by decision-makers on sexual acts, rather than on sexual orientation as an identity. This trend leads to intrusive questioning about their sexual lives and overlooks the fact that LGBTI people are often persecuted just because of the threat they represent to the social and cultural mores.’

This leads to many choosing to be discreet about their sexual orientation and gender identity in their home countries.

Ambiguity in determining when the criminalising of same-sex relations can amount to persecution also adds heavily to the challenges faced by LGBTQI+ asylum seekers who fight a long, often unsuccessful legal battle facing deportation, detention and even a threat to life, just because they choose to be who they are. 

As asylum and immigration claims continue, most lives are reduced to cases and statistics. We often fail to think about the impact of these legalities on people’s everyday lives. What is the future of asylum and immigration law for LGBTQI+ individuals in the UK?

At SOAS, the pride flag stands high and mighty. Its students have always upheld the values of inclusivity and diversity.

Thus, in an attempt to answer this question, The Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic Society (AILC) of the institution is hosting a panel of experts and lawyers involved in immigration and human rights law from Wesley Gryk Solicitors LLP, Duncan Lewis Solicitors, Garden Court Chambers, and NGO personnel from UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG) and MicroRainbow from 5pm to 7pm on Thursday 30th January in the Paul Webley Wing on the Atrium Steps.

The talk titled, ‘Immigration and Homophobia: the role of host-countries in maintaining status-quo’ explores the wider ‘socio-political’ impacts of the immigration policy in the UK and how it is implemented both ‘de jure (specific legal mechanisms and case law) and de facto (social attitudes, every day realities etc)’.

The talk further tries to understand the means of combatting unjust institutional practices and creating an accommodating environment for migrants. 

According to the event brief shared by James Laczko-Schroeder, the Secretary of AILC, the main aim of the talk is to “explore the implications of the current legal structures on the wellbeing and livelihood of LGBTQI+ individuals, raise awareness about this issue, investigate the mechanics of host nations in maintaining the status quo, and discuss what we can do to correct it.” 

With talks from four speakers, followed by a Q&A, there will also be an opportunity for students to network and ask questions about careers in the field. 

The panel discussion is free to attend. Interested people can sign up for the event via this link.

  • Devyani Nighoskar is a 24-year-old SOAS Digital Ambassador from India. A former journalist, she is currently pursuing her MA in Critical Media and Cultural Studies. You may check out her work on Instagram @runawayjojo.
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