Lawyer: UK has ‘long way to go’ in protecting LGBT asylum seekers

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A leading barrister says the UK has “a long, long way to go” when it comes to protecting those fleeing homophobic persecution.

In an interview to The Guardian, S Chelvan, of No5 Chambers, claimed that too many gay asylum seekers faced an “intolerable” position of having to “prove” their sexual orientation.

Chelvan is consulting with the Home Office on its own internal review of LGBT asylum policy.

He believes the department is committed to getting “things right” at a managerial level, but the lawyer remains deeply critical over the way individual cases are handled.

LGBT asylum seekers are often faced with having to answer “intrusive” questions about their sexual activity, the campaigner warns.

Conservative minister Baroness Susan Williams recently admitted that the UK Government did not know how many asylum claims were made on the basis of sexual orientation.

Chelvan believes the government’s position is unacceptable.

“We need the raw data in terms of how many people are claiming because we need to see how they are being treated in the system”, he said.

The Home Office has come under renewed criticism over its policy on processing LGBT asylum claims.

Earlier this month, the High Court ruled that fast track detention, a system used to process the vast majority of cases, was “unlawful”.

Chelvan warns that fast track puts pressure on asylum claims to be processed at speed, despite the enormous complexity of gathering evidence to support applications.

“The Home Office is scared that suddenly everybody will say they are gay. The point is that you investigate the process. You don’t detain them. Because these cases are complicated”, he said.

Chelvan also said it would be “highly unlikely” that officials were at risk of being inundated by fraudulent LGBT asylum claims.

The lawyer helped bring about a landmark ruling in 2010 allowing two gay men from Iran and Cameroon the right to asylum in the UK.

The pair had previously been refused asylum on the grounds they could hide their sexuality.

However, on 7 July 2010, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the men could not be expected to conceal their sexuality in this way.

The Home Office rejects claims of deporting LGBT asylum seekers – despite multiple alleged examples by campaigners.

In June, Chelvan was named ‘Legal Aid Barrister of the Year’ at the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards.