Great Britain's long and troubled history with immigration has taken a bizarre new turn after some asylum-seekers were ordered to “prove” they are gay or lesbian, in order to verify that they would face persecution in their homelands over their sexual orientations.
The Home Affairs Committee, which is appointed by the House of Commons to examine policies, administration and expenditure of the Home Office, noted that some applicants have even been compelled to provide extremely intimate and graphic photographic/video evidence of their sex lives in a desperate measure to stay in Britain. Anecdotal evidence suggests that caseworkers asked applicants questions like “Had they ever read the works of Oscar Wilder?” or “have they attended a gay pride march?”
In response, British gay rights activists, including Stonewall, have condemned the UK Border Patrol's testing system as “distressing.” “Being gay isn’t about what nightclubs you go to; it is a fundamental part of who you are,” said Stonewall spokesman Richard Lane in a statement. “Sadly, in far too many cases, valuable time is spent attempting to ‘prove’ a claimant is gay in this way rather than establishing whether they have a legitimate fear of persecution. This is not only a waste of time and resources but can be deeply distressing to asylum-seekers, many of who have fled for fear of their lives.”
Keith Vaz, a Labour MP and chairman of the Committee, also condemned the practice. “It is absurd for a judge or a caseworker to have to ask an individual to prove that they are lesbian or gay, to ask them what kind of films they watch, what kind of material they read,” he told BBC. “People should accept the statement of sexuality by those who seek asylum. This practice is regrettable and ought to be stopped immediately.”
The Committee also said it is “concerned” that the decision-making process for gay asylum applicants “relies so heavily on anecdotal evidence and ‘proving that they are gay’.” Human rights groups have alleged instances of the UK government deporting gay asylum-seekers back to counties like Uganda, Cameroon and Pakistan where they potentially face grave, even fatal, consequences for their sexual orientation. “There is a lot of ignorance around -- not only within the Home Office and the government but also within the tribunal system and court system,” S. Chelvan, an attorney who specializes in asylum law and immigration, told Pink News, a gay UK online news service.
The Refugee Council, a campaign group that seeks to serve asylum-seekers, has broader concerns about the country’s asylum system, citing, among other things disturbing reports that female detainees have been sexually abused by staff at detention centers. “Failing to treat asylum-seekers with dignity and, simultaneously, failing to deal effectively and fairly with their claims has created an expensive and counter-productive bureaucratic nightmare that all too often denies vulnerable people the protection from persecution and oppression they desperately need,” said the Council’s chief executive Maurice Wren.
Meanwhile, the backlog of asylum cases keeps increasing. BBC reported that about 32,600 asylum cases that should have been resolved two years ago remain in the books, putting the applicants in a kind of extended limbo. Some asylum-seekers have been waiting as long as 16 years for a final decision on residency.
In 2012, 21,955 new applications for asylum in the UK were filed -- as of September 19 this year, of those cases, 18,423 have received an initial decision and 3,523 people are still waiting for one. "The asylum system is overburdened and under severe pressure,” Chairman Vaz added. "The system needs to work; otherwise applicants are trapped in a cycle of helplessness and vulnerability.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.