Labour MP Chris Bryant defends UK Border Agency over claims it has deported gay asylum seekers

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Ahead of today’s meeting about immigration with councillors in Lincolnshire, Labour’s Shadow Immigration Minister Chris Bryant has robustly defended the Home Office and the UK Border Agency (UKBA) from claims that LGBT asylum seekers have been deported by officials in recent years.

Speaking to, the Labour MP said: “My experience thus far is that I have not known a decision [to] go in the wrong direction in the end.”

He also said: “In all asylum cases we are trying to do two things: protect the vulnerable and protect the British taxpayer. Because there was certainly in the late 1990s a significant number of people who were using the asylum system as an alternative way of being an economic migrant – and that’s not what asylum is there for”.

Human rights groups, MPs and lawyers have frequently documented alleged cases of UKBA deporting LGBT asylum seekers back to countries such as Uganda where they face persecution.

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.

Research from the University of Southampton in April showed one lesbian seeking asylum from homophobic persecution in Uganda was asked by an immigration judge whether she’d ever read Oscar Wilde.

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

In November 2012, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell accused the government of breaking a promise to protect people seeking asylum based on sexual orientation.

Citing several alleged cases, he said: “These deportations violate David Cameron’s and Nick Clegg’s commitment to a fairer deal for LGBT refugees fleeing homophobic and transphobic persecution”.

The claims have always been denied by UKBA and the Home Office.

In February, S Chelvan, a leading human rights lawyer criticised UKBA for subjecting LGBT asylum seekers to “inhuman and degrading” pressure in order to “prove” their sexual or gender identity.

The Green Party’s LGBT campaign group in March criticised the UK Border Agency for deporting a lesbian asylum seeker who later died in Uganda following deterioration in her health.

In the same month Home Secretary Theresa May blasted UKBA’s overall performance and announced that its worked would be moved back into the Home Office.

The Liberal Democrats’ LGBT group responded by saying: “The new organisation must be trained to handle the cases of asylum seekers claiming persecution for being LGBT+ sensitively and with an open mind.”

Last week, Serigne Mbengue, a gay asylum seeker from Senegal, who was finally granted permission to stay in the UK after a lengthy legal fight lasting more than four years gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee about his experiences of going through the system.  

When asked if he was aware of cases where gay asylum seekers had allegedly been deported, Shadow Immigration Minister Chris Bryant told “It’s really difficult to draw up a rule actually which says anybody who says there LGB or T will automatically be granted asylum because it is actually quite difficult to prove whether somebody is LGB or T – well it is more straight forward with T – I suppose. So I’m not sure that I am in favour of a blanket line which says anybody who says there lesbian or gay will automatically be granted asylum.

“I think you need to have enough discretion within the system to make sure anybody who is genuinely facing oppression, repression, you know might be tortured or for that matter killed in places like Iran simply by virtue of their sexuality, is protected.”

Asked by if bad decisions were still on occasion being made by UKBA officials when it came to LGBT asylum cases, Mr Bryant gave a hesitant response and refused to answer the direct question, he said: “I think as I say it is really difficult to… whilst intrinsically one sympathises with anybody who is caught in the situation where they live in a country where you’re not allowed to be gay; where you’re persecuted for your sexuality and so one, if you had an automatic [policy of] anybody who says there gay or lesbian will be granted asylum in this country, I think that would invite an awful lot of people who aren’t necessarily lesbian or gay to say that they are [in order] to try and circumvent the system.

“So it is genuinely very difficult to get [this right]. I just look around the world and look at places like Russia where the court has decided you are not allowed to have […] where the Parliament has just introduced a new version of Section 28 – so nobody is allowed to in theory promote homosexuality in Russia, you are not allowed to go on a gay march for another hundred years, and gay men in particular get beaten up, or look at Iran where people are still executed for their sexuality, I want to fight against those human rights injustices.”

A common feature of the asylum process for LGBT applicants is that many are only granted permission to remain in the UK at the very last minute – decisions to halt deportations have occurred literally as asylum seekers are being driven to the airport. When asked if he would raise these matters with the Home Office and UKBA, Mr Bryant replied: “We are going round in circles but I raised these issues since 2001 when I was first elected.

“But it is very difficult to get this balancing act right. In all asylum cases we are trying to do two things: protect the vulnerable and protect the British taxpayer. Because there was certainly in the late 1990s a significant number of people who were using the asylum system as an alternative way of being an economic migrant – and that’s not what asylum is there for, and indeed there is a question about whether once a country that you have been provided asylum from has returned to normality whether people should then be returning for which is not actually provided for in the original Conventions.

“But as I say, you are absolutely right that there are cases where [a decision] has gone to the wire as it were, but I’m not aware of a case where it has gone beyond the wire.”

He added: “I think it is quite difficult to provide a hard and fast rule which says anybody who says that they are lesbian and gay and is from a country where there is oppression for lesbians and gays should automatically be given the right because it is very difficult to prove – and verifiable facts about something that is happening in another country are difficult to come by.

“I don’t think you will ever… it will always be a messy process and there will always be cases which are very you know six of one and half a dozen of the other.”