Never mind Latvian gay rights, what about Iraq’s record?

The UK has a terrible record with case-after-case of people fleeing torture, arrest, 'honour' killing and the like needing campaigning and years of expensive legal effort to force the Home Office to grant them sanctuary.

Our guest writer is Paul Canning

Stonewall and Ben Bradshaw’s talking points got another outing last week and scored what must have pleased both them and Gay Times no end, a ‘gotcha’ moment for Cameron on gay issues. What is frustrating as political leaders do these rare interviews on gay issues is that there’s one area where their glaring failure rarely gets questioned: LGBT asylum and – allied to that – support for LGBT in those parts of the world where they are most at threat.

The UK has a terrible record with case-after-case of people fleeing torture, arrest, “honour” killing and the like needing campaigning and years of expensive legal effort to force the Home Office to grant them sanctuary.

Harriet Harman was booed at the London Pride rally two years ago following the well-publicised case of Mehdi Kazemi. The teenage Iranian had seen his boyfriend murdered by the Mullas but it took a massive campaign before Jacqui Smith relented. Home Office minister Lord West had actually said:

We do not consider that there is systematic persecution of gay men in Iran.”

Campaigners have sought Home Office changes for years to little effect. Only last month the High Court blocked the government from deporting a Ugandan lesbian who was on a police list; now we have the leader of Iraqi LGBT, an incredibly brave man who has saved countless lives from the pogroms in Iraq, being denied asylum and hence travel rights, which he would use to take up American and European offers to talk with politicians and visit TV studios.

Watch a report oh the Iraqi situation:

Yet only Johann Hari’s recent interviews of Brown, Cameron and Clegg for the Independent have mentioned asylum. This produced the irony of Cameron sounding more liberal than Brown as Hari asked the same question about the policy of telling people to “go home and be discrete”. It also produced a bizarre Daily Mail headline “Cameron: Gay refugees from Africa should be given asylum in UK'”- when Africa hadn’t even been mentioned.

But Hari did the same thing as other gay journalists and zoomed in on the Conservative party’s relationship to eastern European homophobes. Those journalists’ priorities match those of gay and lesbian Labour MPs and Labour LGBT. This when we have executions in Iran, a ‘kill the gays’ bill in Uganda and looming repression in the rest of Africa plus that ongoing pogrom in Iraq. None of those MPs has raised a finger to help (yes Brown did complain to Museveni but one isolated swallow doesn’t make a summer).

The Foreign Office proudly trumpets its gay rights work but it is almost entirely European. Its second Human Rights report has some information about Iraq – sourced from the same person Labour’s Home Office says does not have a “compelling” case. Only Labour’s Michael Cashman MEP has a record to be proud of on international LGBT issues.

By contrast look at what’s happening in the US State Department through Hillary Clinton’s leadership on truly international gay rights work. As the booing of Harman showed LGBT voters are aware of Labour’s big failing on LGBT asylum. And no ammount of spin helped by gay journalists and pointing at the Tories can cover up the big homophobic stink emanating from the Home Office.

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5 Responses to “Never mind Latvian gay rights, what about Iraq’s record?”

  1. LGBT Asylum News

    RT @leftfootfwd Never mind Latvian gay rights, what about Iraq's record?

  2. Confused of Croydon

    I don’t think it’s as simple as that.

    A person’s sexuality is really something that you have to take their word about- you can’t really make someone “prove” that they are lesbian/gay. Which means that if you do adopt a policy of granting protection to all gay people from a particular country, there is a huge risk that a lot of straight people say that they are gay in order to be allowed to stay here- and there will be nothing that we as the UK will be able to do about it. If we want to scrap immigration controls on countries such as Iran, Iraq, Jamaica and Uganda, it would be more honest just to do that.

  3. Duncan Stott

    @Kerry4MP but I wouldn't shout too loudly about asylum for homosexuals, Kerry. Glass houses, stones…

  4. paul canning

    @Confused of Croydon – it has not been the case in those countries which have decided that it is simply impossible to send gay people back to places like Iran and Iraq that they have been ‘flooded’ (echoes of M Thatcher). The Netherlands, Canada, Sweden and even the USA have a better record but the case numbers are very low. It is also wasting a lot of money and causing enormous distress when Home Office fights claims which have mountains of evidence – such as the current Ugandan one.

    One compromise to your idea – which is common – is to be better train staff and to take advice from those people who work with LGBT refugees. The Home Office has done virtually nothing in this area to deal with problems brought to its attention.

    The UK should be working with UNHCR to help gays fleeing the pogrom in Iraq and those bravely trying to save people inside it – we are doing neither and I say that should be of more importance than what’s happening in Latvia.

  5. Bruce Leimsidor

    Mr. Canning,
    One of the major problems in advocating for a fair deal for LGBT asylum seekers in Europe, and perhaps even in North America, is that many of the major general refugee activist organizations are neither very knowledgeable or even comfortable with asylum claims concerning persecution on account of sexual orientation or identity. I do not want necessarily to imply that they are homophobic; I would prefer to say simply that they are not used to dealing with a context of persecution that has, in the EU, been recognized as qualifying for asylum under the Geneva Convention only in the last five years or so.

    In recent years a few excellent LGBT refugee organizations have been developed and are providing good, dependable country of origins reports on the plight of LGBTs around the globe, but that is only part of the solution. While an adjudicating commission may be convinced that there is persecution of LGBTs in a specific country, the individual claimant must show convincingly that he himself suffered persecution or had a reasonable fear of suffering such. In short, he needs expert counseling on presenting his case.

    Unfortunately, the organizations and counselors with years of experience in asylum in general are relatively new to the issue of gay asylum. While there is now excellent country of origin information, handling a case where the claimant has been so intimidated and humiliated at home that he has problems even saying the word “homosexual,” may present the counselor with unexpected challenges. On the other hand, if the LGBT claimant goes to a gay refugee organization, he will find lots of understanding, but not necessarily the years of legal experience required for him to present his case to it best advantage.

    On the other hand, as you intimated, there is less interest in gay asylum issues by LGBT rights organizations than what one could expect. This is particularly serious, in that it is precisely these gay rights organizations in places like the UK, North America, and certain EU countries that have the political clout to be of some help to LGBT asylum seekers. These organizations have managed to work wonders for their local gay communities, but there are very few that have extended themselves on the subject of gay asylum rights. Given the rather inhospitable atmosphere in Europe and North America for immigrants in general, it is possible that these gay organizations do not want to compromise their political position by uniting themselves with the contentious issue of immigration. It’s unfortunate, but understandable. It also doesn’t mean that we have to accept it as unchangeable.

    I am a professor of European immigration law at Ca’Foscari Univerity, Venice, Italy, and have worked for several years with major refugee assistance NGOs and UNHCR. I would be happy to receive comments at: [email protected]

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