A Sign of Progress in UK Asylum?
Yesterday, a film called Cul de Sac received its global premiere in London. The film is based on the life of its maker, Kiana Firouz. Ms Firouz originally began filming in her native Tehran several years ago and continued filming in the UK when she relocated there as a student two years ago. According to PinkNews.co.uk, Iranian authorities have been keeping a watchful and disapproving eye on Ms Firouz and her work. Fearing deportation, Ms Firouz applied for asylum in the United Kingdom. In Iran, lesbianism is a criminal offence, the punishment for which is 100 lashes. If the same person is caught, convicted and sentenced for this same offence three times then she is sentenced to death on the occasion of a fourth offence.
The British Home Office refused Kiana Firouz’s application despite the fact that she faces flogging, execution, or both if she is returned to Iran. The basis for the Home Office’s decision is grounded in a deeply cynical English & Welsh Court of Appeal decision regarding a compatriot of Ms Firouz’s, who was identified as ‘J’ (2006). The test laid down in that case—and which has since been used by the Home Office and the courts to reject the numerous applications of numerous gay and lesbian asylum seekers—if gays and lesbians can avoid persecution in their native societies by behaving “discreetly” then they do not require the safety of asylum. Lord Justice Pill, in a different decision of the Court of Appeal, last year pointed out the absurdity of this logic:
It would have been no defence to a claim that Anne Frank faced well-founded fear of persecution in 1942 to say that she was safe in a comfortable attic [...] Refugee status cannot be denied by expecting a person to conceal aspects of identity or suppress behaviour the person should be allowed to express[.]
‘J’, a gay Iranian man, is currently appealing that decision to the highest court in the United Kingdom, the UK Supreme Court (formerly the House of Lords). His case is being heard jointly with that of ‘T’, a Cameroonian gay man. Both men were told in the court decisions which they are appealing that they could expect violent reprisals in their countries-of-origin, but that their repatriation could be sanctioned because they could be reasonably expected to exercise enough “discretion” to avoid attacks. The Home Office is again arguing this line before the court. The case continues at present but is expected to represent a major development in the UK approach to asylum, in one direction or the other. The newly formed coalition Government’s policy on equalities states:
We will stop the deportation of asylum seekers who have had to leave particular countries because their sexual orientation or gender identification puts them at proven risk of imprisonment, torture or execution.
Since the new Government automatically becomes a party to the appeals of ‘J’ and ‘T’, the case represents a perfect opportunity to demonstrate the conviction of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government in the pledge above. If the new Home Secretary, Theresa May, were to withdraw the submissions (entered in the case by her predecessor, Jacqui Smith), which cling steadfastly to the original principle laid down in the 2006 ‘J’ case then it would finally be acknowledged that those fleeing persecution in their homelands as a result of their sexuality have a legitimate claim for safe-harbour. And that would be a very welcome decision, however discreetly the new UK Government wish to do it.
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