Does the UK Adequately Protect People Seeking Asylum based on Risk of Persecution relating to Sexual or Gender Identity or Expression?

This policy briefing addresses issues relating to asylum applications in the UK by persons who fear persecution relating to their sexual or gender identity or expression.

People who do not comply with sexual or gender identity or expression (SOGIE) norms continue to face persecution in many parts of the world:

It is widely documented that LGBTI individuals are the targets of killings, sexual and gender-based violence, physical attacks, torture, arbitrary detention, accusations of immoral or deviant behaviour, denial of the rights to assembly, expression and information, and discrimination in employment, health and education in all regions around the world. Many countries maintain severe criminal laws for consensual same-sex relations, a number of which stipulate imprisonment, corporal punishment and/or the death penalty.

Approximately 6% of persons who seek international protection in the UK do so for reasons relating to their sexual identity. Data regarding the number of people seeking protection for reasons relating to their gender identity or expression is not available.

The Home Office has made some progress in its approach to asylum claims based on sexual and gender identity and expression in recent years. In response to the 2014 report of the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine, ‘An Investigation into the Home Office’s Handling of Asylum Claims Made on the Grounds of Sexual Orientation’ (‘Vine report’), the Home Office stated its commitment to ensuring that asylum applications based on sexual identity ‘are handled with sensitivity’. Compared to a decade ago, there is now greater recognition of the importance of these issues at the policy level, increased monitoring of sexual identity cases, higher success rates in asylum applications, and there are ongoing developments in guidance and training for Home Office staff.

However, set against the progress that has occurred is Asylum Aid’s experience and other evidence that indicates that problems persist in the Home Office’s approach to SOGIE asylum applications. The UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG) reported in June 2017, for example, that ‘instances of inappropriate questioning related to sexual conduct’ and questions that oblige the applicant to ‘explain why they are not heterosexual’ continue to occur.

This briefing discusses three key aspects of refugee status determination in cases relating to sexual or gender identity or expression: 1) current Home Office guidelines; 2) the accuracy of Home Office decision-making; and 3) the effectiveness of Home Office monitoring mechanisms.