Gay Afghan who fled Taliban couldn’t claim LGBTQ+ asylum in UK, John Nicolson MP writes

In a PinkNews exclusive, John Nicolson MP shares the story of a young gay Afghan who escaped the Taliban, only to be met with a hostile Home Office in the UK.

Two years ago, Elham was in hiding in Kabul. He was 17 and gay. The Taliban were hunting him and planned to murder him. He wrote a diary about his life in hiding, which he published online.

I read out some extracts in the House of Commons. He described his fear and the feeling of claustrophobia as he hid, hidden by distant family members while Taliban thugs hunted for him door-to-door. 

No one outside a tight circle knew his whereabouts or that he was gay. He couldn’t even confide in his parents. They loved him deeply as their son. But they are conservative Muslims and deeply homophobic.

He had taught himself English and dreamed of escaping to the UK. But the chaotic UK Home Office offered no route out for a gay asylum seeker appealing for sanctuary – even someone like Elham, in imminent danger of death. 

After months of hiding, and without outside help, Elham managed to obtain an Afghan passport, and, in heavy disguise, fled across the border and on to Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan.

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For nine months, he tried desperately and fruitlessly to pursue his asylum claim with the Home Office. He describes hiding out in baking temperatures in a rented room in a slum area. He spent his time improving his English and studying for a university entrance exam.

I was immensely moved by his diaries. And so, it seemed, were thousands of others who heard me read the extracts in parliament.

A group of benefactors got together and agreed to pay Elham’s plane ticket to London. Moreover, they also agreed that, should he pass his university entrance exams, they would cover his fees, accommodation and living costs.

Elham visited me at the House of Commons last week. He got into the UK not as a LGBTQ+ asylum seeker fleeing for his life – that route has been closed by the UK government. He is here as a paying student on a student visa. He has passed his university entrance exams and now speaks fluent English. He dreams of a career as a foreign correspondent.

Elham’s story is one of determination and courage. He misses his mum and dad, his siblings (and his mum’s home cooking). And he worries desperately about them and their safety, living under the Taliban. But he says he feels as if he has come home – to a country whose people have welcomed him in a language he adores, and where gay people are able to express their love. As he puts it: “At long last I am free to be me.”

I can’t wait to see the wonderful things this incredible young man will achieve.

John Nicolson is the Scottish National Party MP for Ochil and South Perthshire.

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