|Stephane Tchakam, Charge de Communication Pan Africa ILGA|
The publication by South African based news website Behind The Mask of an article on UK LGBT asylum issues has drawn adverse comment by British activists.
The article followed extensive publicity surrounding the case of the Ugandan gay refugee Robert Segwanyi and quotes Ugandan activists. Segwanyi's case was rejected by the British authorities, however their attempts to remove him were 'deferred' following an campaign which included a petition of almost 4,000 people. [Disclosure: the petition was started by the author.]
The article contain claims about asylum seekers which UK supporters of LGBT asylum seekers have strongly reacted against.
Dr Paul Semugooma, a Ugandan physician and an activist on HIV and LGBT issues, is quoted as saying:
“For quite some time, there has been a tendency for everyone [claiming asylum] to claim that they are gay.”
The article's unnamed author wrote that "some people pretend to be at risk gays to enter Britain and other western countries."
It quotes Frank Mugisha, of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) saying that:
“So they (Britain and other Western countries) should work with us (local activists).”
Mr Mugisha was quick to add that his comments were general and not specific to Segwanyi’s case.
Mugisha said: “Immigration (British) should carry out good analysis, work with us and grant genuine cases asylum. But because of the situation here, it is not correct to come up with guidelines and just reject every one who applies.”
Jide Macaulay, speaking for London-based Justice for Gay Africans Society, which has supported a number of gay Africans claiming asylum in the UK, said:
"I believe that the article published in MASK is misleading and [could] prejudice future cases."
"We have to be mindful of journalistic jibes that can taint credible years of hard work."
Stonewall's 2010 report
Activists point out that claiming asylum on sexuality grounds is very difficult and Stonewall's 2010 report on LGBT asylum found many UK LGBT asylum seekers claiming on other grounds because they did not believe they would win on sexuality grounds, they were ashamed of their sexuality or were badly advised.
Cases of claimants exaggerating their experience because they think it might help their claim have been known, however experience of torture cases has shown the problems in providing detailed testimony and the ease by which 'holes' in evidence can be found by an adversarial system.
They note that cases of supposed 'fake' asylum seekers attract disproportionate media coverage. A recent example was a Ugandan convicted of raping a woman in Scotland who then claimed he was gay. They point out that, as with Segwanyi, the system's rejection of a case does not mean that the person is not lesbian or gay, even if reporting may say they are 'fake'.
In a recent interview, Erin Power of UKLGIG, a LGBT asylum charity, said:
"[LGBT asylum seekers] don’t get support from their home communities here and they don’t get support from the LGBT community. In the LGBT community as elsewhere, there is a lot of misunderstanding about asylum seekers, a lot of antagonism towards asylum seekers"
LGBT asylum seekers face a hostile asylum system, activists say.
Power notes the problems in obtaining suitable legal advice and the many other problems facing LGBT asylum claims:
"The Home Office says you must claim asylum at the earliest opportunity and that you damage your credibility if you don’t. However, we also know that if you are going to win your claim as an LGBT asylum seeker you need time to prepare well, so there are things that have to be weighed up. If you have nowhere to live and no support and you are going to be destitute on the street, of course claim asylum. But if you are in a position where you can manage long enough to get your evidence together yourself (no longer with the guaranteed assistance of a solicitor), with our help, with us telling you what you need to do, then do that before claiming asylum. Do not go unarmed, unprepared because you will almost certainly lose. Even if you go armed and prepared you still might lose but you will have a better chance."
This website has examined in detail numerous cases where significant evidence of sexuality was provided yet the system, both Home Office decision makers as well as judges, refused to accept that a claimant was gay or lesbian. In February we detailed a Ugandan lesbian case where a judge admonished Home Office lawyers for misapplying case law on that country.
The behaviour of both Home Office officials and lawyers in 'cherry picking' media coverage in undermine 'credibility' or country evidence in asylum cases lie behind Macauley's concerns about Semugooma and Mugisha's comments being misused.
Campaigns for people such as Segwanyi usually only occur when removal is a real threat. Says Macaulay:
"Petitions and other forms of Campaigns work to delay any deportation and allows time to prepare a person's case. The [UK Border Agency] UKBA are only interested in rapid deportation and many airlines carriers are implicated. We have the example of John Bosco who was wrongly deported."
Bosco was refused asylum in the UK but, in a near unique case, was brought back after a judge's decision that the law had not been followed. He is now a recognised refugee living and working in the UK. Bosco has been a strong supporter for Segwanyi, who settled in the same location as him, and has provided evidence about Segwanyi's sexuality.
In comment about the article he said:
"I ask Ugandan Activist to avoid using the words that “For quite some time, there has been a tendency for everyone to claim that they are gay.”"
Regarding the request from Mugisha for consultation, Macaulay said:
"We make every effort to consult with Activists in the African nations, but not every case require such intrusion."
"I believe we are all fighting for the same outcome. Uganda is no doubt a hotspot for gay people and the work our colleagues are doing is no doubt credible towards change and peace for LGBT citizens."
"Not every gay Ugandan is known to these groups in Uganda as they are not advertised so that people to know them. If the UK contacts them they will say we don’t know him and this will give a chance to UKBA to say that if you are not know to Ugandan gay groups then you are not gay. ... we only need evidence whether LGBT Uganda suffer persecution or not."
In the article Semugooma said of Segwanyi:
“That (the deportation) is kind of hard in a way because we cannot deny or prove what the truth is. But, refusing asylum for LGBT should not be so.”
In a comment on the article's page on the website, Bosco points out that he knows 'the truth' - that Segwanyi is gay. It should be noted that all the campaign information about Segwanyi made this clear.