Lesbians are seeking asylum in the UK to escape persecution in their home countries.
And they need our support.
Although homophobia and anti-gay violence is common in various cultures, in many countries the state also colludes and endorses such oppression. In Russia for example a federal law banning what it defines as ‘gay propaganda’ has lead to increased violence and repression of the gay community in wider society. The Ugandan government, under the grossly bigoted influence of American fundamentalist Christian groups, has recently introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Act in which gay people face life imprisonment as well as state and societal extreme violence, harassment, torture, rape, murder. Here in the UK the state also colludes in the oppression of gay people, often detaining and deporting gay asylum seekers back to face the severe threat and reality of such homophobic governmental and societal violence and abuse.
Lesbians, as women, face vastly increased threats of specific abuses such as sexual violence.
A recent report by the Home Affairs Committee, has criticized the The UK Border Agency’s treatment of lesbian and gay asylum seekers. It stated they faced “extraordinary obstacles” in persuading immigration officers of their cases. This has meant that lesbians (and gay men) have had to go to great lengths to prove their sexuality such as submitting highly personal video and photographic imagery of their sexual activity to meet the standards of the credibility assessment. Not only is this a hugely humiliating invasion but an infringement of their human rights. If gay people do not meet such criteria they face the devastation of deportation to the possibility of persecution, imprisonment, torture, rape and murder.
Yarls Wood detention center for asylum seekers, UK, has itself been at the center of many abuse allegations. (Under the previous Labour government children were also detained here. Children are now detained separately from their mothers at a center run by Bernardo’s). Allegations at the center include torture, unexplained deaths and sexual violence. There have been a series of corroborated allegations of a sexual nature made against male staff. The only witness to one alleged incident was deported before she was interviewed by the police. Almost 90% of people held at Yarls Wood are women, yet about half the staff are male. All asylum seekers, including those seeking asylum on the grounds of sexuality, are in an extremely vulnerable position, in terms of state and societal abuses both here and elsewhere in the world.
Here is the experience of one lesbian seeking asylum in the UK (from Freedom From Torture).
‘Anna’ came to the UK on a student visa in 2003 after being subjected to repeated rapes including gang rape because of her sexuality-‘When people ask me about asylum, people think you are running away from the government yet I was running away from the people. The government failed to protect me from the people but on a daily basis, it was the people. My parents helped me get out of the country-I had been harassed and raped-all because I don’t like men. I don’t know why I’m not attracted to men, I’m just not’…..
…”I did not claim asylum in the UK until a number of years after I arrived – I realise now it was a mistake but leaving Uganda kept me alive. Six months after arriving in the UK I found out that my girlfriend had been murdered because she was a lesbian.’……
……’When I first came here I was working part time in a factory and my parents also sent me money. I lost that job and when my parents were no longer able to help me I ended up living on the streets. It was very scary but it was also where I met a man who said that he could get me false papers including a national insurance number so that I could get a job – I was naive and desperate.’……
In 2008 the Home Office came knocking on Anna’s door after they suspected her of having false papers. She was arrested and taken to a nearby police station. “I didn’t know whether to tell them about what had happened to me in Uganda – when I went to the police back home to report the rapes, I was told that it was my fault, I had ‘brought it on myself.” Anna was eventually able to disclose to the police some details about what had happened in Uganda and it was then that she claimed asylum.
“At the detention center I was asked the same questions repeatedly but because of my experiences back home I was just too scared to tell them the full story. It’s hard telling people what has happened to me.
“In Uganda, the police and others thought my story was a joke. When the men were raping me, they were laughing. When I did start to tell them what had happened, they challenged everything I said. They kept using the word alleged – to them my story was full of allegations but it is the truth. Anna* found out, the way current decision-making is conducted in the UK involved an almost impossible feat of ‘proving’ her sexuality: “If you do not fit their view of a stereotypical gay person then they don’t get it – how do I prove I’m a lesbian? What do they want me to do – act butch?’……
……”I have to report to the Home Office on a regular basis. Last year during one visit, I was interviewed by a woman from Uganda. I had met her previously. She said to me, ‘I’m not even sure if you’re Ugandan’. Then on the next visit I was detained and sent to Yarl’s Wood (Immigration Removal Centre) where I was held for two weeks. They tried to send me back to Uganda – I was so scared, I didn’t know what to do but thankfully my solicitor got an injunction to stop my removal – the judge accepted that I had been tortured and ordered my release. I still have to report every week and there is always a fear that they could just detain me and send me back to Uganda, like they tried to last time.”
After Anna’s asylum claim was refused on the basis that the judge didn’t believe that she is a lesbian, she submitted a fresh asylum claim which was also turned down. She has since been granted permission to challenge the ruling. “They do not believe my sexuality and they are suspicious because I did not claim asylum when I first arrived in the UK. I don’t know what they want me to say? I didn’t claim asylum when I first arrived because I was told not to. People told me that gay men and women were not allowed to claim asylum on the basis of their sexuality. I didn’t know any better.
“The asylum process is hard. Explaining yourself to a stranger and to someone who you know is going to judge you is difficult – I’ve been judged since the age of 13. I don’t know what I would have done if I wasn’t strong willed. Once your asylum claim has been refused, you are expected to live in the harshest of conditions. Perhaps they think that you’ll leave that way but I have no future to go home to – my girlfriend was murdered, my parents are no longer alive and the only family I have are my friends that I’ve made here in the UK. If I do have to leave the UK, I know they’ll kill me back in Uganda and I am ready for it but I want to at least live a little while longer.’
In terms of The Border Agency’s homophobic policies, the Home Affairs Committee concluded “People should accept the statement of sexuality by those who seek asylum. This practice is regrettable and ought to be stopped immediately.”
The Home Office however has only said it will continue to monitor practices.
‘Anna’s’ experience is only one of many.
We need to help such organizations as the Lesbian Immigration Support Group http://lesbianimmigrationsupportgroup.blogspot.co.uk/
Support campaigns and petitions against deportations.
We need to support all lesbians who are being abused and mistreated by our own UK immigration controls and state, as well as the threats they face elsewhere in the world.
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