Lesbian forced to flee Zimbabwe after facing death threats from own family. She’s just been denied refugee status

Lesbian Zimbabwe Ireland asylum

A lesbian who was forced to flee Zimbabwe after facing death threats from her own family has been denied refugee status in Ireland.

In April 2019, an International Protection Officer (IPO) recommended that the woman – who has not been named – be denied asylum, arguing that her claim lacked credibility.

The woman said she forced into two separate marriages as a child in Zimbabwe at the ages of nine and 13. She claimed she was forced to flee her home country after her family found out that she was a lesbian, leading to threats of violence.

The woman subsequently brought judicial review proceedings in an effort to have the 2019 IPO recommendation overturned – however, Justice Tara Burns denied her request on Friday (22 January), The Irish Times reports.

In her appeal, the woman argued that her sexuality was a “core element” of her asylum claim and that the IPO had failed to determine her sexuality when it recommended that she be denied asylum.

Before making a recommendation on her asylum claim, the IPO asked her questions about her sexuality and found that she was not aware of any LGBT+ support groups in either Ireland or Zimbabwe.

The IPO used her responses to questions about her sexuality, and other information about the woman, in reaching a recommendation that she should be denied asylum in Ireland.

In her ruling, Justice Burns said the IPO had reached a determination on the question of her sexuality. Her appeal to have the IPO recommendation overturned was denied.

She can now appeal the matter at the International Protection Appeals Tribunal, the judge said.

The case comes just months after a bisexual healthcare worker who fled anti-LGBT+ discrimination in Zimbabwe had her application for asylum in Ireland rejected because she doesn’t “seem bisexual”.

That ruling sparked international backlash, with the healthcare worker and another queer Zimbabwean woman speaking on condition of anonymity to CNN about their experiences seeking asylum in Ireland.

The Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI) told PinkNews that it is “appalled” by recent decisions for LGBT+ refugees.

“The Irish state assumes to have the authority to validate or invalidate a person’s sexual orientation in order to deny them protection,” said spokesperson Bulelani Mfaco. “Nowhere in Irish law or practice would the Irish state treat its own citizens in such a manner.”

Mfaco said the Irish government “ignores the difficult and life-threatening conditions LGBTQ+ asylum seekers escape in their home country”. He said queer people in some countries could face prison or death if they were to join an LGBT+ organisation.

“The Irish government doesn’t have the authority to validate a person’s sexual orientation,” Mfaco added.

“It’s a serious disregard of the person’s fundamental human right to privacy to try. It is disgraceful that this practice continues.”

Ireland has faced stinging criticism for its treatment of asylum seekers.

LGBT+ rights in Zimbabwe continue to lag far behind other countries, with gay sex still illegal, while same-sex marriage is banned under the constitution.

Queer Zimbabweans have no legal protection from discrimination, violence and harassment, while LGBT+ people are often forced to remain closeted to protect their safety.

Ireland has repeatedly faced stinging criticism from international human rights bodies for its treatment of asylum seekers. 

Refugees who arrive in Ireland are accommodated in a system known as “direct provision”. The system was introduced in 2000 to provide shelter for asylum seekers for six months while they waited for the state to make a decision on their claim.

More than 20 years on, the system remains in place, while a 2018 report found that residents were spending an average of 23 months in these centres.

Many of these “direct provision” centres are old hotels, B&Bs and other buildings where families often live together in tiny rooms, while single people are often forced to share bedrooms with complete strangers.

Amnesty International has called the system “an ongoing human rights scandal” – yet the Irish government has been slow to react, and the system remains in place.