Home Affairs Select Committee slams government on LGBT asylum policy

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

The Home Affairs Select Committee says LGBT asylum seekers are still being ordered to “prove” their sexuality and Chairman Keith Vaz has strongly criticised the practice.

The Labour MP told BBC News: “It is absurd for a judge or a caseworker to have to ask an individual to prove that they are lesbian or gay, to ask them what kind of films they watch, what kind of material they read.

“People should accept the statement of sexuality by those who seek asylum. This practice is regrettable and ought to be stopped immediately.”

In a new report the committee found claimants had resorted to desperate measures to stay in the UK, including handing over photographic and video evidence of “highly personal sexual activity” to caseworkers.

The committee said: “We were concerned to hear that the decision making process for LGBTI applicants relies so heavily on anecdotal evidence and ‘proving that they are gay’.”

It added that “it is not appropriate to force people to prove their sexuality if there is a perception that they are gay. The assessment of credibility is an area of weakness within the British asylum system.

“Furthermore, the fact that credibility issues disproportionately affect the most vulnerable applicants – victims of domestic and sexual violence, victims of torture and persecution because of their sexuality – makes improvement all the more necessary.”

The Refugee Council said the committee’s report reflected its “grave concerns” about the UK asylum system.

In recent months campaigners have also called on the government to investigate allegations of abuse against female detainees carried out by staff at various detention centres.

Chief Executive Maurice Wren said: “Failing to treat asylum seekers with dignity and, simultaneously, failing to deal effectively and fairly with their claims has created an expensive and counter-productive bureaucratic nightmare that all too often denies vulnerable people the protection from persecution and oppression they desperately need.”

Richard Lane, spokesman at gay rights charity Stonewall, added: “Being gay isn’t about what nightclubs you go to; it is a fundamental part of who you are.

“Sadly, in far too many cases, valuable time is spent attempting to ‘prove’ a claimant is gay in this way rather than establishing whether they have a legitimate fear of persecution.

“This is not only a waste of time and resources but can be deeply distressing to asylum seekers, many of who have fled for fear of their lives.”

In response, a Home Office spokesman said: “The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need it. We are committed to concluding all cases as quickly as possible, but asylum cases are often complex and require full and thorough consideration.

“We have robust mechanisms in place to monitor standards of housing provided to asylum seekers.”

S Chelvan, one of the country’s leading barristers specialising in asylum law and immigration told PinkNews.co.uk in August that at its worst the asylum system can appear indifferent to the plight of those fleeing homophobic and transphobic persecution.

“There is a lot of ignorance around not only within the Home Office and the government but also within the tribunal system and court system,” he said.

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

The claims have always been denied by the Home Office.

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?”