‘Cruel’ Home Office denied asylum to 25 LGBT+ men who fled Afghanistan for their lives

Protesters hold a banner during the demonstration against the Home Office

The Home Office has denied asylum to 25 LGBT+ men from Afghanistan, forced to flee their homes due to their sexuality, since 2017, new figures have revealed.

Information obtained under the Freedom of Information act by the Byline Times revealed that 25 Afghan men were denied asylum on sexuality grounds by the Home Office, but none were subsequently deported. 

Those men had their asylum applications denied after the Home Office changed its guidance to say Afghanistan was a safe place for LGBT+ people so long as they didn’t “seek to cause public outrage”. 

LGBT+ people in Afghanistan have always faced persecution and violence – under Sharia law, all forms of same-sex sexual activity are illegal and are punishable by death. Queer people can also be imprisoned for lengthy sentences if they are found to have engaged in sexual activity with a person of the same sex.

The outlook for LGBT+ Afghans got suddenly and significantly worse when the Taliban seized power in August 2021. Since then, countless LGBT+ refugees have fled the country in search of safety and security elsewhere as reports circulated that the extremist group had started executing queer people.

The data obtained by the Byline Times covers refusals handed out between 1 February 2017 and 31 December 2020 and returns processed between 1 February 2017 and 30 June 2021.

Home Office’s approach to asylum seekers is causing ‘increased mental trauma’

Daniel Sohege is director of Stand For All, an advocacy group that works with asylum seekers. He tells PinkNews that the UK government’s approach to asylum seekers more broadly is causing undue mental stress and turmoil.

“It’s absolutely terrible, and quite often in these sorts of cases causes increased mental trauma,” Daniel says. “I would suggest that that’s something we’re going to see a lot more of with the Nationality and Borders Bill.”

The Nationality and Borders Bill, which was passed by parliament in April, will make it more difficult for asylum seekers to come to the UK in search of safety and a new life. 

Priti Patel has announced that all historic gay sex convictions to be pardoned under new scheme

Britain’s home secretary Priti Patel. (Oli Scarff/Getty)

The government also intends to send some asylum seekers who arrive in the UK on small boats from the Channel to Rwanda in a move that has been described as “evil” and “unworkable”. LGBT+ organisations have expressed concern that such a move would further jeopardise queer asylum seekers’ wellbeing.

According to Sohege, it’s a “clear breach of international law” to send an asylum seeker back to their home country if they would be unsafe there. 

Their response shows no concern for the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable individuals.

Like most people, he agrees that Afghanistan would be “unsafe” for LGBT+ people – therefore, they should be granted asylum in the UK and in other countries. 

“Their response shows no concern for the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable individuals. It’s designed specifically to be as cruel as possible with no purpose behind it, because we know that these measures do not actually work. They’ve turned asylum into a political punching bag.”

According to Byline Times, 10,230 people claimed asylum in the UK between 2015 and 2020 based on sexuality. Worryingly, 6,078 of those were refused asylum.

“The Home Office over the years has routinely denied LGBT+ individuals, and some of the comments they’ve made in doing so have shown not only a lack of awareness of the issues, but also a complete lack of respect for the individuals and the community as a whole,” Sohege says. 

(Mario De Moya F via Getty Images) PinkNews is proud to launch our LGBTQ+ Refugees Welcome campaign to help those who need it most

Government has faced stinging criticism over its approach to asylum seekers

The Home Office’s approach to LGBT+ asylum seekers – and to asylum seekers more broadly – has come in for heavy criticism over the years. 

Sonia Lenegan, policy director with Rainbow Migration, told PinkNews in April that Home Office officials use “degrading” methods and outdated stereotypes when they’re trying to decide whether an LGBT+ refugee is actually LGBT+.

Lenegan said there is “no way” the government can confirm that LGBT+ people won’t end up being sent to Rwanda, where they could find themselves at risk of violence or discrimination. 

“How are you going to filter people out when you’re not even believing them now? There are no safeguards that will be enough. It’s not safe for queer people, it’s not safe for anyone,” Lenegan said. 

The Home Office has claimed that the Nationality and Borders Bill will “fix Britain’s broken asylum system”, but activist groups and human rights defenders have condemned the government over its approach. 

In a factsheet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said the bill undermines Britain’s commitment to the 1951 UN convention on refugees. 

The high commissioner described the UK government’s plans as “discriminatory”, saying a “two-tiered” approach to deciding who will be sent to Rwanda will only exacerbate inequalities. 

PinkNews has contacted the Home Office for comment.