Campaign group: Home Secretary must end ‘appalling’ abuse of gay asylum seekers

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Home Secretary Theresa May needs to urgently tackle homophobic abuse experienced by gay asylum seekers in detention, the head of a leading campaign organisation says.

Paul Dillane, executive director of the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG), has warned that the number of claimants forced into prolonged detention is on the rise.

In an article published by VICE today, two gay men who fled persecution in Pakistan recalled of experiencing homophobic bullying and abuse during the asylum process. One described detention centres as being “totally unsafe” for LGBT people after being subjected to weeks of abuse and sexual harassment. Another endured months of bullying and violence in community accommodation.

Mr Dillane said: “Gay, lesbian and bisexual asylum seekers regularly complain about bullying, verbal abuse, physical violence and sexual harassment in immigration detention centres and community accommodation. Seeking asylum is not a crime yet the Home Office is detaining increasing numbers of gay, lesbian and bisexual people who seek asylum, often for weeks or months.

“The Home Secretary gave a commitment that asylum applicants would be treated with dignity and respect. To achieve this she should end the detention of LGBTI people, continue to improve the quality of asylum decision-making and take steps to tackle homophobic and transphobic abuse experienced by people seeking asylum.”

In response, a Home Office spokesperson said that “the UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need it and applications are considered carefully in line with the immigration rules before a decision is made.”

Addressing alleged instances of abuse, the spokesperson added: “It is totally unacceptable for any individual to be subject to bullying, verbal abuse or threats of violence because of their gender or sexual orientation and we expect all complaints to be dealt with to the highest standards by our staff and service providers.”

In a review published last week, Sir John Vine, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, detailed that a fifth of gay asylum interviews conducted by Home Office caseworkers contained some stereotyping and a tenth contained questions of an unsatisfactory nature.

The Chief Inspector expressed particular concern about the treatment of sexual identity cases in the Detained Fast Track (DFT) process.

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

In response to Sir John’s report, the Home Office said it accepted “all eight of the Chief Inspector’s recommendations, seven in full and one in part”.

The department pledged to improve training for caseworkers.

Meanwhile, MPs have been told today that the UK’s backlog of asylum cases (for all categories not just those fleeing homophobic persecution) has reached 29,000 applications dating back at least seven years.

The Public Accounts Committee said 11,000 of those applicants had not even received an initial decision on whether they could remain in the country.

Contact was lost with 50,000 people refused the right to stay, it added.

The government said it was “addressing the backlogs inherited” in 2010.

Home Office Minister James Brokenshire said the immigration and asylum system had been “totally dysfunctional” prior to the coalition government taking office. He insisted progress was being made.

But Labour accused the coalition of “presiding over one failure after another in our immigration system”.