UK: Judges accused of asking lesbian asylum seekers ‘inappropriate’ questions such as ‘Have you read Oscar Wilde?’

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Research from the University of Southampton shows LGBT asylum seekers are regularly being asked “inappropriate and insensitive” questions by judges.

The research, based on interviews with 11 lesbians from countries including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Uganda and Jamaica found that the interviewees were frequently disbelieved by immigration judges.

One lesbian seeking asylum from homophobic persecution in Uganda was asked by a judge whether she’d ever read Oscar Wilde.

Another was asked: “Why have you not attended a Pride march?”

Claire Bennett, a researcher at the University of Southampton, said the findings were shocking.

“I thought I was quite unshockable just in terms of how dehumanising criminalising the whole asylum process is,” Ms Bennett said to the Independent. “I was wrong.”

One woman from Jamaica was told by an immigration judge that he did not believe she was gay because “you don’t look like a lesbian”.

Of the 11 asylum seekers Ms Bennett interviewed, one gained asylum at the first decision, six gained asylum after several appeals, and four are still going through the system.

The government has never released statistics from immigration tribunals on how many people each year apply for asylum claiming that they face persecution because of their sexuality.

But it is believed by support groups that around 98% of such claims are rejected first time around.

Jackie Nanyonjo, a lesbian asylum seeker who was deported back to Uganda in January, died during March in the country.

She had fought strongly against the deportation order and continued to resist the decision, becoming ill in the process, during her transit to Uganda’s Entebbe Airport.

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) has frequently been accused of mishandling LGBT asylum cases.

Home Secretary Theresa May told MPs in March that the Border Agency’s performance was “not good enough” and confirmed it would be split with its work moved back into the Home Office.

Earlier this week, the Institute for Government gave a cautious response to the decision.

Sir Ian Magee, senior fellow of the institute, doubted whether UKBA would be “significantly improved simply by shuffling the pieces again now.”