Gay asylum policy in tatters following legal defeat

By Ian Dunt

The policy of returning gay asylum seekers back to their country of origin has been dealt a double blow with a supreme court defeat and condemnation from the United Nations (UN).

The supreme court upheld appeals from two men – one from Cameroon and the other from Iran – who claimed they faced ill treatment back home because of their sexuality.

The Home Office claimed they could dodge attacks by hiding their sexuality, but the justices were scathing about the advice.

“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 him the fundamental right to be who he is,” Lord Hope, who read out the judgement, said.

The man from Cameroon, who was not named, had been seen kissing his boyfriend and was attacked by an angry mob. He has been fighting removal for four years.

The Iranian man was attacked and expelled from school when his sexuality was uncovered.

Iran publically flogs homosexuals and Cameroon imposes lengthy jail sentences.

New rules being introduced by the coalition government would stop the deportation of asylum seekers if they face “imprisonment, torture or execution” back home.

But today’s judgement looks as if it could expand that set of categories. Neither man in the supreme court case, for instance, was under threat of torture or execution. Nor did either of them claim to have been imprisoned.

The home secretary claimed the judgement vindicated the coalition government’s policy and confirmed that the new rules would start to apply from today onwards.

“I welcome the ruling of the supreme court, which vindicates the position of the coalition government,” Theresa May said.

“We have already promised to stop the removal of asylum seekers who have had to leave particular countries because their sexual orientation or gender identification puts them at proven risk of imprisonment, torture or execution.

“I do not believe it is acceptable to send people home and expect them to hide their sexuality to avoid persecution.

“From today, asylum decisions will be considered under the new rules and the judgment gives an immediate legal basis for us to reframe our guidance for assessing claims based on sexuality, taking into account relevant country guidance and the merits of each individual case.

“We will, of course, take any decisions on a case-by-case basis looking at the situation in the country of origin and the merits of individual cases in line with our commitment.”

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes said: “I am delighted this ruling recognises the rights of gay asylum seekers, ensuring their freedom from persecution around the world.

“This plight is one that my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I have campaigned on for years. It is an issue that the coalition government is committed to addressing as we seek to restore Britain’s reputation around the world as a leader in the protection of human rights. I believe that today’s ruling will go some way to restoring that reputation.”

Meanwhile, in a series of startlingly direct comments, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) office equated the UK’s gay asylum rules with Nazi Germany.

Alexandra McDowall, the UNHCR’s legal officer in London, said: “Would we have asked a Jew to hide in the attic to avoid being sent to the concentration camps?

“Persecution does not cease to be persecution just because an individual can take avoiding action by being discreet.”