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Could you prove you are gay if your life depended on it?

We are still turning LGBT asylum seekers away from safe havens to face persecution and death, says Stuart Hanson

Could you prove you are gay if your life depended on it?

The UK is one of the toughest places to claim asylum in Europe, according to the most recent United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) figures.

Approximately 75% of all asylum seekers were initially not recognized by the UK Border Agency as having protection needs and were refused asylum. In countries like Finland and Switzerland over 70% of asylum seekers were granted protection.

This is a 45% difference and suggests Britain is not the soft touch that is constantly broadcast in the tabloids and media.

Broadcasters, like openly gay Scott Mills, have attempted to educate the masses with regards to the treatment of people who identify themselves as LGBT in countries such as Uganda. However, the UK Border Agency still regularly return LGBT asylum seekers such as lesbian, Jackie Nanyonjo, who died in Uganda after she was deported to her country in January this year.

It is a fact over 70 countries have laws criminalizing same-sex acts. Five of these countries have the death penalty for same-sex acts. The public hangings of 2005 in Iran of Mahmoud Asgari (16 years old) and Ayaz Marhoni (18 years old) should have made all civilized countries understand the serious nature of LGBT asylum claims.

In late 2011, I was a director of a successful commercial company. I had founded the company eight years previously. After travelling to South Africa and Iran I decided to sell everything, move out of my apartment and establish the charity, No Going Back.

The charity is the only organization in the UK which provides free legal representation to LGBT asylum seekers making claims here in Britain. No Going Back also provides training on the issues LGBT asylum seekers face and publishes reports on LGBT asylum matters.

The charity is fast growing and has already got the attention and support of some UK celebrities including BBC’s former Egghead, CJ de Mooi, London’s Emmanuel Ray winner of Fashion Icon of the Year award and Drew-Ashlyn Cunningham from Channel 4’s My Transsexual Summer who is a GSN contributor.

The cases I usually come across at No Going Back do not generally attract Legal Aid support and in many instances the LGBT asylum seekers are destitute, sometimes making ends meet by prostituting themselves on our streets.

Recently Frank came to see me at No Going Back asking for support. He originally came from Guinea in 2010 when he made his first claim for asylum. He admitted to me his first claim was based on false information, because he felt scared and embarrassed to talk about his sexuality.

This claim naturally failed and from this point he said he realized he would have to tell the true story and talk openly about his sexuality.

In 2012 he made his second claim, but was immediately attacked as been opportunistic and not credible in his application. His second attempt for humanitarian protection failed.

During these years, Frank told me proudly he had been living openly as a gay man and had also been in a substantive relationship with a British national. He presented me with a bundle of fresh evidence which included statements from his former partner, LGBT community groups, and friends all confirming his sexuality.

His last piece of evidence was in the back of his file, which were explicit photos of him and his partner in bed. Frank confessed to me he had taken these out of desperation, as he didn’t know how else to prove his sexuality. These types of degrading photographs or even videos are now becoming commonplace in LGBT asylum cases.

The main issue Frank and other genuine LGBT asylum seekers face is other people making false claims to the UK Border Agency. The Border Agency then has to make a decision whether the person in front of them is telling the truth.

There is no simple, single way to evidence sexuality and that is the biggest problem facing No Going Back’s service users. If you are not in a relationship then the question of providing evidence for your asylum claim becomes even more difficult.

At times I feel the UK Border Agency expects LGBT asylum seekers to fit into the gay stereotype we have in the West when they ask in all seriousness: ‘Have you read any Oscar Wilde?’

In view of this, it is tempting for me to encourage LGBT asylum seekers to live up to these stereotypes.

Maybe the next time a UKBA official asks ‘When did you realize you were homosexual?’ Frank should reply: ‘Well, first I applied to be gay, I had the interview… then there was the swimsuit and evening gown competition [flick hair]; the last stage was of the process was singing a medley of Kylie Minogue’s greatest hits wearing my pink feather boa! At that point I was given a lifetime membership.’ [Exit interview whistling YMCA]. Perhaps then his credibility would not be challenged.

Stuart Hanson is founder director of No Going Back.

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