Harman condemned for failing to stop deportation of gay asylum seeker

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Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has said he is disappointed that his appeal to a government minister to intervene in the case of a gay asylum seeker did not stop his deportation.

Mr Tatchell’s campaigning on the issue of gay asylum led to a meeting with Equalities ministers Harriet Harman and Barbara Follett and a Home Office official on September 3rd.

He claims that the politicians gave an undertaking to intervene in cases where LGBT asylum seekers are being unfairly treated by the Home Office, but the pledge was not kept.

On September 18th Mr Tatchell contacted them about Babi Badalov, a gay man who claimed his life would be in danger if he was repatriated to Azerbaijan.

He wanted them to “make representations to the Border Agency and Home Secretary to defer his deportation pending an asylum tribunal hearing to consider Babi’s fresh claim based on new evidence.”

The Goverment Equalities Office said that Ms Harman’s staff did contact the Home Office and Babi’s case was examined.

“The Government is absolutely committed to ensuring the asylum system treats everyone fairly,” a spokeswoman said.

“All relevant details are thoroughly examined, including claims of persecution on grounds of sexual orientation, and subject to independent scrutiny by the judiciary.

“Ministers are committed to looking into allegations of homophobia in the asylum system, and Mr Tatchell received a response within 24 hours of highlighting this case.”

Mr Tatchell told PinkNews.co.uk:

“This response was to say that Harriet and Barbara could not help in Babi’s case.

“Her junior advisers, who hold little sway with the Home Office, did make representations.

“But Harriet and Barbara, who have real clout, declined to so do.

“I emailed and phoned Harriet Harman’s office on September 18th and 19th about Babi’s case.

“I requested that Harriet and her Equalities deputy, Barbara Follett, urge the asylum minister Liam Byrne and the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to suspend Babi’s deportation pending his fresh appeal, based on new evidence.

“I was told by Harriet’s advisers that Harriet and Babara were at Labour Party conference and could not be contacted. This is nonsense.

“They have mobile phones and pagers. I was also told by them that Harriet and Barbara could not contact Liam Byrne and Jacqui Smith. This is also rubbish. They were all together at the Labour Party conference.

“This is utterly shameful. They never even tried. They broke their promise to help put right the unfair treatment of LGBT asylum claimants.”

Babakhan Badalov, known as Babi, was deported from Heathrow on Saturday afternoon on a British Midlands Airways (BMI) flight to Baku.

A reknowned artist, he claimed his sexual orientation and his public opposition to the Azerbaijani government put his life in risk.

His supporters say his removal contradicts UK Border Agency rules as they changed the details of his forced removal at the last minute and did so on a Saturday.

Despite a campaign that successfully persuaded Azerbaijan Airlines not to transport Mr Badalov, BMI agreed to repatriate him.

“Labour cannot claim to be a gay-friendly party when it mistreats genuine LGBT refugees in this way, and when it breaks solemn pledges to intervene to stop abuses by the Home Office,” said Mr Tatchell.

At their party conference earlier this month, the Liberal Democrats called on the government to halt the deportation of people to countries where their sexual orientation or gender identification means they face imprisonment, torture, or execution.

A halt on government-sanctioned deportations of at risk LGBT people is now official party policy.

Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said:

“It is totally unacceptable for Britain to be deporting people to countries where they will face persecution, torture or death merely because of their sexual orientation.

“This country has a proud tradition of providing sanctuary to those fleeing tyranny and oppression.

“It is about time that practice was extended to gay and lesbian people escaping deeply unpleasant homophobic regimes.”