Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Time to tackle 'institutional homophobia' at the Home Office

In the years since the McPherson report the Government and the police have come a long way in tackling the 'institutional racism' that used to lie at the heart of the way the Home Office dealt with race issues (shooting the odd Brazilian by accident notwithstanding).

But, alas, the same can't always be said for the way the state treats lesbian and gay people. It's no exaggeration to say that 'institutional homophobia' remains rife in the Whitehall corridors.

Gay and lesbian asylum seekers are still regularly deported back to countries where they face persecution, punishment, torture or even execution simply because of their sexuality. Iranians Pegah Emembakhsh and Mehdi Kazemi were just the latest high profile examples.

The sad truth is that the immigration staff making decisions about such asylum cases just don't really know what they are doing. They don't receive training in issues surrounding sexual orientation - and they often don't understasnd that fleeing a regime which persecutes on the basis of sexuality is an internationally recognised and legitimate justification for asylum, and such cases should be granted according to the UK's commitment as a signatory to the UN's 1951 Refugee Convention.

But now three activists from Brighton and Hove Green Party are trying to change things - and have called on the Prime Minister to change the way LGBT asylum seekers are treated, logging a petition with the Number 10 website.

The petition, which can be read in full - and signed - at http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/lgbtasylum/ - calls for an urgent review of the services provided for all LGBT asylum seekers. In particular its authors think that the following are needed for fair treatment -

1. Compulsory training for all asylum staff on sexual-orientation and trans-awareness.

2. Explicit instructions to all immigration and asylum staff, and asylum judges, that homophobic and transphobic persecution are legitimate grounds for granting asylum.

3. Clearer and up-to-date guidance from the Home Office for asylum judges to reflect the accurate scale of LGBT persecution throughout the world using expert information from NGOs like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

4. Legal-aid funding for asylum claims needs to be substantially increased.

It really is time the Government started treating LGBT asylum seekers with the fairness that they deserve. These are people who’ve often fled persecution, rape and torture who flee to our country and our response is to lock them up like criminals. They say enough is enough of this inhumane policy - we need to stick our necks out now and stand up for LGBT asylum seekers.

And I agree. If you do too, please take a minute to sign up.

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