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The lesbian asylum case that shows a broken system

Immigration expert Omar Kuddus highlights the story of lesbian Alice’s bid to avoid deportation back to Cameroon to face persecution
Yarl's Wood Immigration Detention Centre in UK, where the lesbians are held.

Detention centers stand as monuments to Britain’s attitude to human rights, incarcerating behind razor wire asylum seekers awaiting deportation.

They are the last stop for those who have failed to make a successful asylum claim, a key tool in the British governments attempt to ‘manage migration’.

Much of the debate around immigration to the UK focuses on the legitimacy of asylum claims.

Alice Nji, a lesbian asylum seeker from Cameroon who has had her deportation delayed after the pilot refused to fly her back in the private charter, is one such case.

She has been assisted in her fight against deportation by Movement for Justice by Any Means Necessary (MFJ). The campaign group has disclosed how she ‘started crying, shouting and screaming for almost 20 minutes’ in order to prevent the plane from taking off.

Speaking of her ordeal surrounding her deportation attempt Alice has issued a personal statement.

She said: ‘It was around, 12.45am Saturday morning (1 September) they came and told me that I just have five minutes to get ready to go to airport. I didn't refuse, I arranged my few things and we left.

‘Inside the van one of the escorts, a lady, told me going back to Cameroon has no risks attached to it, that I will not have any problem on my arrival.

‘When we got in to the plane I told one of the escorts that I would like to speak with the pilot.

‘They told me that I am not allowed to speak with the pilot, I started crying, shouting and screaming for almost 20 minutes. The plane was about to take off – that was when the pilot came and asked the escorts to take me out.

‘While we were inside the van coming back to Yarl's Wood, the escorts were telling me that next time it will not be a private plane it will be a charter plane because the UK government is bent that I should go back to Cameroon.’

She had been held at the Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre in Bedfordshire, awaiting her deportation back to Cameroon from which she had stated a campaign to stop her deportation.

She was joined in the campaign with two other asylum seekers Aderonke and Freda and now joined by Frank and Zaina. They want signatures on their petition from other detainees and to make their fight known in the press and public.

They state: ‘Please help us to get justice – we face deportation orders from the UK Border Agency (UKBA) back to our different and various homophobic African countries namely Nigeria, Cameroon and Uganda where homosexuality is criminalized and widely frowned on by the society.

‘The UKBA is subjecting us to mental and emotional torture. It refuses to accept that we are lesbians, despite all the bundles of evidences we have provided, but it is fully aware we are being abused just because we are lesbians by some of the detainees in Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre who come from our own countries.

‘That will make us more vulnerable to persecution if we are deported.

‘The UKBA is cynically exposing us to this abuse, which includes repeated verbal insults and serial humiliation that has become physically threatening.’

The petition to help Aderonke Apata, Alice Nji and Freda Nsumba obtain asylum in the UK is here.

Alice had previously complained: ‘The UKBA allows a pastor to operate who constantly uses derogatory words and prayers against LGBT people. The UKBA is responsible for allowing this pastor to whip up homophobia and it knows that this is just the tip of the iceberg of the tortures we will be exposed to if we are deported from Britain.

‘These include violence, rape, extortion and other forms of sexual assault particularly if imprisoned if following been forcefully returned to these hostile homophobic environments.

‘We are particularly at danger of being killed as we will not be able to get protection from the governments of our countries who already criminalize our sexual orientation.’

Amnesty International says Cameroon has a poor record of protecting its LGBT citizens. Same-sex sexual acts and relations are banned a penalty of five years imprisonment and a fine with more severe sentencing when one of the offenders is under the age of 21. The National Human Rights Commission also been accused in the past of refusing to defend the rights of LGBT people in Cameroon.

In August this year a state sanctioned ‘Gay Hate Day’ took place in the country that did not receive the condemnation from the world’s leaders that it deserved.

The Cameroon's Minister of Communication, Issa Tchiroma, in 2010 confirmed homosexuality was definitely illegal in Cameroon, but argued homosexuals were not prosecuted for their private activities.

But those comments are disputed by Alice in her application for asylum and her fight against deportation and her views are shared by many LGBT activists including myself.

In order for campaigners aiming to prevent the deportation of specific individuals to stand any chance of success, they have to focus on the individual’s legitimate claim to refugee status, which is problematic and not always possible. For one of the most frequent argument put forward by UKBA to refuse asylum is that of the validity of the claimant’s sexuality. Ho do you prove you are gay? I would find it difficult, even if we were to ignore the invasion of privacy this entails.

I believe Britain should exercise caution granting asylum but it also should be reasonable in making its decisions. In my opinion LGBTs seeking asylum from countries that discriminate, penalize, imprison and outlaw homosexuality should be allowed asylum to ensure. Otherwise they face persecution when deported back to their homeland, particularly once their asylum rejection has been publicized as has been the case in this instance.

The question must be asked that just how many are to suffer violence and imprisonment before we stop the deportation of fellow homosexuals.

I sincerely hope that the Yarl’s Wood Five are not sacrificed in that way.

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