UK asylum seekers 'told to prove they are gay'
By Justin Parkinson
Political reporter, BBC News
and lesbian people seeking asylum in the UK from persecution abroad are
being ordered to "prove" their sexuality, MPs have said.
In extreme cases claimants had handed over photographic and
video evidence of "highly personal sexual activity" in an effort to
persuade officials, the Home Affairs Committee found.
The gay rights group Stonewall called the testing system "distressing".
The Home Office promised to monitor and maintain standards.
In its report on the asylum system, the committee said it was
concerned by the quality of the UK Border Agency's decision-making, as
30% of appeals against initial decisions had been allowed in 2012.
And a backlog of 32,600 asylum cases that should have been
resolved in 2011 was yet to be concluded, while the number of applicants
still waiting for an initial decision after six months had risen by 63%
Some had been waiting up to 16 years, while the housing with which they were provided was sometimes "appalling".
It also said poor decision-making by officials was raising the risk of the UK harbouring war criminals.
The committee also focused on the situation facing lesbian,
gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people seeking asylum.
In its report, the committee said they faced "extraordinary obstacles" in persuading immigration officers of their case.
Its chairman, Labour MP Keith Vaz, told BBC News: "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.
"People should accept the statement of sexuality by those who
seek asylum. This practice is regrettable and ought to be stopped
A Supreme Court ruling in 2010 stated that the "underlying
rationale" of the United Nations Refugee Convention was that people
should be able to "live freely and openly" in their own country without
fear of persecution.
This judgement, the committee said, had effectively
overturned the Border Agency's previous emphasis on "voluntary
discretion" - which had meant it should be seen an option for claimants
to conceal their sexuality in order to avoid abuse.
The report said: "The battleground is now firmly centred in
'proving' that they are gay. In turn, this has led to claimants going to
extreme lengths to try and meet the new demands of credibility
assessment in this area, including the submission of photographic and
video evidence of highly personal sexual activity to caseworkers,
presenting officers and the judiciary."
The committee said: "We were concerned to hear that the
decision making process for LGBTI applicants relies so heavily on
anecdotal evidence and 'proving that they are gay'."
It added that "it is not appropriate to force people to prove
their sexuality if there is a perception that they are gay. The
assessment of credibility is an area of weakness within the British
"Furthermore, the fact that credibility issues
disproportionately affect the most vulnerable applicants - victims of
domestic and sexual violence, victims of torture and persecution because
of their sexuality - makes improvement all the more necessary."
The Refugee Council said the committee's report reflected its "grave concerns" about the UK asylum system.
Chief Executive Maurice Wren said: "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
Stonewall says LGBTI people in some countries have suffered rape, torture and death threats.
Spokesman Richard Lane said: "Being gay isn't about what nightclubs you go to; it is a fundamental part of who you are.
"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
A Home Office spokesman said: "The UK has a proud history of
granting asylum to those who need it. We are committed to concluding all
cases as quickly as possible, but asylum cases are often complex and
require full and thorough consideration.
"We have robust mechanisms in place to monitor standards of housing provided to asylum seekers."
He added: "We will continue to monitor performance to ensure that standards are met."