An investigation by Sian Norris with the Byline Intelligence Team explores the vulnerability of LGBTIQ people looking for a safe home in Britain

A total of 25 men seeking asylum in the UK from Afghanistan on the grounds of sexuality had their claims refused after the Home Office updated its guidance in 2017 to say it was safe for LGBTIQ people to live in the country if they did not “seek to cause public outrage”.

A Freedom of Information request by the Byline Intelligence Team found that, while 25 people were refused asylum, none had been subsequently deported. 

The data provided covered refusals between 1 February 2017 and 31 December 2020, and returns between 1 February 2017 and 30 June 2021. 

The revelation comes as LGBTIQ and migrant rights activists have expressed concerns about the Government’s plan to send people seeking asylum in the UK who travel via ‘irregular’ routes to Rwanda, where they will be able to claim asylum.

Rwanda’s record on LGBTIQ rights has been criticised. The Government’s own record on LGBTIQ rights has also been under fire in recent months, with it having to cancel the first ever global Safe To Be Me conference after 100 rights organisations announced that they would boycott the event. 

In 2017, then Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced that gay Afghans could be returned to their home country, despite the LGBTIQ community facing legal and social discrimination. 

Even after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan, Home Office guidance from October 2021 said that deporting LGBTIQ Afghans presents “no real risk of harm”, although the Government stopped enforcing returns to the country following the UK’s withdrawal. 

Previous Home Office guidance recognised that while LGBTIQ Afghan people were at risk from their families, the country’s laws and insurgent Taliban forces, “a practising gay man who, on return to Kabul, would not attract or seek to cause public outrage, would not face a real risk of persecution”.

This suggested an expectation that gay people should hide their sexuality in order to survive in Afghanistan – and appeared to contradict a 2010 Supreme Court ruling which stated that “to compel a homosexual person to pretend that his sexuality does not exist or suppress the behaviour by which to manifest itself is to deny his fundamental right to be who he is”.

Sarah Cope, who runs a support group for LGBTIQ women seeking asylum called Rainbow Sisters, told Byline Times that refusals for people claiming asylum on the basis of sexuality are often linked to a lack of understanding of LGBTIQ people’s experiences.  

“Many of the women we work with are from countries where being gay or transgender is criminalised, and so they have not had a chance to live openly, to have a relationship and so on,” Cope said. “They might not even have told anyone about their sexuality. But the Home Office expects everyone to be out and proud and going to gay bars and on dating apps, and that people will come to court to testify they have been in a relationship with the claimant.”

Cope also said that sexuality is not dependent on being in a relationship, and yet LGBTIQ people seeking asylum are often disbelieved because they are single or have had a partner.

“It seems like if you’re not in a relationship with a person of the same sex, then your identity isn’t really valid, you’re not really gay,” she told Byline Times. “If someone was straight, you wouldn’t say they don’t have a sexuality because they aren’t in a relationship.”

Last October, 29 LGBTIQ Afghans arrived in the UK. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office stated: “The UK is playing a world-leading role in supporting the departure of persecuted Afghans from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.”

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The Global Picture

Between 2015 and 2020, a total of 10,230 people claimed asylum in the UK on the basis of sexuality. Of these, more than half (6,078) were refused. 

Appeals were lodged in 5,379 of the decisions, and 3,045 appeals were dismissed. 

“People are told they can relocate, go and live in a different part of the country from where they came from to avoid discrimination,” said Sarah Cope, explaining what happens when a claim is refused. “But first of all, if there are no safe places in your home country, the same issues are going to rise up again and again.”

LGBTIQ women experience specific barriers, Cope added.

“They may be from countries where women don’t have a lot of power,” she said. “A female stranger who arrives in a new part of a country may face questions about why she is there and where she came from before. She may be questioned about being single. There’s a real cultural blindness about the issues LGBTIQ women may experience when forcibly returned.”

She also warned how a lack of understanding of trauma from the Home Office can lead to people having their claim refused. 

“If a claimant’s story has any inconsistencies then that becomes a reason to reject them,” she told this newspaper. “If you’re recovering from trauma, which many of these women are, then you might struggle to recall or express certain things that have happened.

“A lot of people claiming asylum on the basis of their sexuality may also have had bad experiences with state forces and the police in the home country, meaning they find the Home Office interviews very difficult.”

The majority of people claiming asylum on the basis of sexuality were from Pakistan (2,450) and Nigeria (898). A total of 624 people claimed asylum on the basis of sexuality from Uganda, along with 1,084 people from Bangladesh, and 511 from Iran. 

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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