As part of the build-up to June’s Safer To Be Me Symposium, we are proud to be sharing our Safer To Be Me: Global Voices blog series, showcasing LGBTQ+ themes from around the globe, written by ReportOUT volunteers.
Following the challenges and humiliations faced by LGBTQ+ asylum seekers around the world, we turn to focus on the UK as a case study.
This blog highlights these humiliations starkly and question the lack of consistency in the UK’s approach to assessing LGBTQ+ asylum claims and consider how to improve the dignity and respect shown to our communities fleeing their homelands within the asylum process.
From describing their first understanding about their sexuality in Home Office interviews, to gathering physical evidence to support their claim for asylum; LGBTQIA+ people endure an arduous system to secure asylum in the UK.
As it stands, the grounds for seeking asylum in the UK are vague, stating that to be eligible, you must be unable to return to your home country as you fear persecution (UK GOV). However, a lack of specific terms has not led to an open policy in the UK’s hostile environment framework when it comes to granting asylum. More accurately, for those seeking asylum where sexual orientation forms the basis for their claim, they are met with the burden of not only proving their fear of persecution, but also with providing evidence of their sexuality.
‘Pass’ By Providing Evidence of Your Trauma
Currently, there are 67 countries that have jurisdictions which criminalise private, same-sex, consensual sexuality activity – 11 of which still impose the death penalty (Human Dignity Trust). Due to this, many LGBTQIA+ people have had to take the brave decision or have been forced to seek asylum in the UK, for fear of being discriminated against, persecuted or killed in their home countries. Whilst stating your sexuality is not a prerequisite for asylum registration in the UK, in 2021 there were 415 asylum applications lodged, where sexual orientation formed part of the basis for the claim, representing 1% of all asylum applications (UK GOV, 2022) that year.
It is important to distinguish two things: firstly, not all applicants are granted asylum and secondly, not all applicants decide to declare their sexuality on their registration, therefore the number 415 represents those willing applicants. Resulting from a myriad of factors, ranging from religion and culture in government to colonial-era ‘sodomy laws’(Rainbow Migration) which make same-sex relations punishable with prison sentences, LGBTQIA+ people all over the world submit applications from asylum in hopes of enjoying the freedom to be themselves.
However, the system they must “pass” to obtain refugee status forces those who have had to conceal their sexuality, to provide evidence of their past sexual history, relationships, emotions and potential trauma.
The Demand For Dangerous Evidence
After the first step of registering for asylum in the UK, LGBTQIA+ people must undergo two separate interviews with the Home Office. These interviews can last up to 4 hours in some cases (Rainbow Migration), requiring answers to the most personal of questions, more often than not spoken in a language that the claimant is not comfortable expressing their true feelings in.
After this, it is required to submit supporting evidence such as witness statements, medical reports of psychical assault in their home country and evidence of the discrimination they faced.. Not only is it unrealistic to apply these fixed expectations for evidence on those from the LGBTQIA+ community, but it demands dangerous evidence. Furthermore, there is the unpredictable perspective of the asylum officer assessing the application’s evidence. The LGBTQIA+ community seeking asylum in the UK are forced to apply within a system where their evidence could be interpreted as unbelievable because their claims are too common and unconvincing, or alternatively if they do not submit evidence, the credibility of their application is damaged (UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration group, 2016: 29).
A Chronic and Consistent Lack of Empathy
The major failure in the UK’s system for those claiming asylum is based on their sexuality, is that is fails to account and be emphatic with the fact that many LGBTQIA+ people have previously lived their lives in their home countries, making every attempt to conceal their true selves to protect themselves from laws against homosexuality and violent discrimination. Therefore, to request the submission of evidence is a challenge for many who have been forced to actively conceal their homosexuality. In addition to this, Even if some people can provide evidence for their asylum application, this relies on them being “out” in a particular way to meet the expectations of the asylum process (Rainbow Migration 2023), rather than being sympathetic and understanding of the context that have brought around 400 asylum seeking LGBTQIA+ people to the UK (2021 UK Gov statistics) in the first place.
In conjunction with the requirement to provide evidence, the asylum seeking process enforces the requirement for the applicant to answer questions to determine whether or not “are in fact lesbian, gay or bisexual” (Gov.uk, 2016: 6). The questions by nature are extremely personal, however there have been reports from LGBTQIA+ people who have gone through the asylum process, who have been asked questions beyond the reasonable and seriously encroaching upon their own dignity. Examples of such questions have included, “How often do you have sex with your partner?”, “Do you use sex video sites?”, “what was your first sexual experience like?” (Bond, 2022). These questions showcase the insensitivity that many LGBTQIA+ people are subjected to in order to obtain asylum in the UK.
Whilst it is expected that background information and investigations into country specific discrimination and persecution of those in the LGBTQIA+ community is understood as reasonable examination into an asylum seeker’s application in the UK.
The practice of demanding unrealistic evidence and answers to questions that strip the dignity of vulnerable individuals, is in need of immediate and significant review.
For the moment the asylum seekers that have been granted leave to remain in the UK are sheltered with the freedom to be themselves, free of returning to states of persecution. However, there are many LGBTQIA+ that are in a system facing unfair appeals and dehumanising interviews.
Human Dignity Trust. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from https://www.humandignitytrust.org/
Asylum claims on the basis of sexual orientation 2021. (2022, September 23). GOV.UK. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/immigration-statistics-year-ending-june-2022/asylum-claims-on-the-basis-of-sexual-orientation-2021–2
Asylum Policy instruction Sexual orientation in asylum claims. (2016, August 3). GOV.UK. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/543882/Sexual-orientation-in-asylum-claims-v6.pdf
Bond, K. (2022, June 6). Asylum Seekers in the UK: How LGBTQ+ refugees ‘prove’ their sexuality | Metro News. Metro UK. https://metro.co.uk/2022/06/06/asylum-seekers-in-the-uk-how-lgbtq-refugees-prove-their-sexuality-16744541/
Claim asylum in the UK: Overview. (n.d.). GOV.UK. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from https://www.gov.uk/claim-asylum
4 facts about LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum in the UK. (2022, June 1). Rainbow Migration. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from https://www.rainbowmigration.org.uk/news/4-facts-about-lgbtqi-people-seeking-asylum-in-the-uk/
How to apply for asylum – English version. (n.d.). Rainbow Migration. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from https://www.rainbowmigration.org.uk/how-to-apply-for-asylum-english-version/
UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group. (2018, 07 01). Still falling Short. 29. https://www.rainbowmigration
Maeve’s blog is part of ReportOUT’s Safer To Be Me: Global Voices series, in support of the Safer To Be Me Symposium, a joint ReportOUT-University of Sunderland project, which will take place on 22nd June 2023 at Sunderland University in the North East of England. The symposium will create a safe space where some of the most important issues facing international LGBTQI+ human rights can be explored and discussed in great detail, as well as encouraging a call to action where all involved can identify meaningful ways to be proactive and make a powerful impact. To find out more, visit our website