Lesbian who fled Ghana spared jail after working illegally as nurse during Covid-19 pandemic

The flag of Ghana against a backdrop hued with the colours of the lesbian Pride flag

A lesbian who was outed in Ghana and forced to flee to the UK for her life has been handed a “merciful” community order for fraud after using a fake passport to work illegally as a nurse.

Eunice Owusu had no choice but to escape her abusive arranged marriage after her sexuality was disclosed against her will to her employer, Teeside Crown Court heard, with her lawyer John Nixon explaining that she feared for her life due to Ghana’s strict criminalisation of homosexuality. 

The 34-year-old admitted in court to copying her cousin’s passport in order to apply for jobs in care homes after being initially denied the right to live and work in the UK. 

Owusu worked through the height of the Covid-19 pandemic over an 18-month period, during which she earned £27,835.70, the court heard. If she had been handed a sentence of more than 12 months imprisonment she would have faced deportation.

“She is a lesbian lady which was a real issue in her life in Ghana, there was an arranged marriage and he [her husband] was violent and it is quite clear that her sexuality carries a significant sentence in Ghana,” said Nixon.

“There are reports of people being stoned to death and burned alive in Ghana.”

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Emma Atkinson, prosecuting, told the court that Owusu’s illegal status and passport fraud became known when police were called to a domestic incident and her partner informed the officers.

People hold up an LGBTQ+ Pride flag
LGBT+ rights in Ghana continue to come under fire. (RAJESH JANTILAL/AFP via Getty Images)

Owusu, of Parkfield Way, Stockton, pleaded guilty to five counts of fraud and one charge of possession of an identification document with improper intention.

She was handed an 18-month community order, ordered to attend 30 rehabilitation activity requirement days and to carry out 120 hours of unpaid work.

Judge Howard Crowson said he was imposing a “merciful” sentence, with her future to be decided by the Home Office. 

He said: “I understand that your sexuality within your home country Ghana can make your life difficult, which is an understatement, your life could be unsafe and that is why you came to the UK.

“Its primary purpose was for you to work and that’s how you committed the fraud.

“The work that you did in care homes was during a difficult time to work and it continues to be a difficult time.

“The care providers needed somebody to do the work and they paid you to do it – there were no complaints about your work – so I am punishing you for what you did rather for any loss.”

Same-sex activity is illegal in Ghana

In Ghana same-sex activity between men is illegal and carries a maximum penalty of three years’ in prison. 

But disturbingly, an anti-LGBTQ+ bill, currently before parliament, aims to clampdown on all LGBTQ+ identity.

If passed, the bill will make identifying as queer, having a same-sex relationship or intercourse, marrying someone who has had gender-affirming surgery or being an ally to the community all punishable by up to five years in jail. 

Anyone aware of gay acts would also be required to report them and could be criminalised, by up to five years in prison, if they fail to do so. 

LGBTQ+ refugees could be persecuted if sent to Rwanda

Home Office data released last year revealed that only 677 people were granted asylum or other forms of leave based on sexual orientation claims in 2021 (the data only specified LGB claims).

This was out of 1,050 initial decisions, with the number covering many cases that were lodged in previous years.

A Home Office spokesperson told PinkNews that every asylum case is “considered on a case-by-case basis” and that “no one is removed unless it is safe for them to do so”.

There was widespread outrage in May last year when the Home Office announced that it would send refugees who arrive via the English Channel to Rwanda – despite admitting there’s evidence LGBTQ+ refugees could face persecution in the country.

The government’s 2022 migration plan saw the Home Office’s equality impact assessment for the policy state there are “concerns” over the treatment of some LGBTQI+ people in the east African country, and that investigations point to “ill treatment” of this group being “more than one off”.

A placard opposing the deportation of refugees to Rwanda is seen during a demonstration in Parliament Square. The placard reads "No to Rwanda deportations. Stop the flights".
A placard opposing the deportation of refugees to Rwanda is seen during a demonstration in Parliament Square. (Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty)

In the report, which highlights the “concerns” of sending migrants to Rwanda, it notes that homosexuality was decriminalised in 2010, but warns: “At this stage, investigations point to ill treatment being more than one off, but it does not appear to be systemic.”

Another issue with the current Home Office system is how it understands sexuality within asylum claims as a matter of identity, rather than conduct.

Some people from outside of the UK it can be harder to pinpoint their identity, and despite judging by stereotypes being prohibited by Home Office asylum policy, it can still play a role as evidence in claims. 

This means decision-makers may look for evidence such as photos taken in gay-spaces or for a person to “look gay”, Alex Powell notes, which could be why a number of sexual minority asylum claims end in rejection. 

PinkNews contacted Rainbow Migration and a spokesperson for the service confirmed it was not familiar with Owusu’s case, but said they do work with people from Ghana. Eunice Owusu has also been contacted for comment. 

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