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Asylum Seekers: Uganda

Volume 754: debated on Wednesday 18 June 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many people from Uganda claiming asylum on the grounds that their lives are in danger because they are gay or lesbian were (1) allowed, and (2) refused, asylum in the latest year for which figures are available; and what steps are being taken to monitor the status of any individuals returned to Uganda.

My Lords, in 2013, the UK received 226 asylum claims from Ugandans. Of the 191 decisions made in 2013, 84 were granted asylum and 107 were refused. We cannot say without a manual search of the files how many were made on the grounds of sexual orientation, as this information is not currently stored in a way that can be retrieved via IT systems. The Government do not routinely monitor the treatment of individuals removed from the UK, and individuals are returned to their own country only when the Government and courts have established that it is safe to do so.

I thank the Minister for her reply. As she will know, the penalties against same-sex relationships in Uganda are horrendous, carrying the threat of life imprisonment with associated penalties for anybody who in any way supports lesbian, gay or bisexual relationships. Is she aware that, in the four months since those laws were passed, there have been 162 very well documented cases of the persecution of lesbian and gay people, many of them involving physical violence—and that is only the tip of the iceberg? Will she therefore please ensure that everybody involved in the asylum process is fully aware of the increasing gravity of the situation in Uganda, not just from the Government but from the populace?

My Lords, there is heightened awareness from the Government downwards. Given the noble and right reverend Lord’s position as a church man, it is incumbent on all of us in civil society and in politics to make what representations we can to the various organisations and government bodies in that country to stop this sort of practice.

My Lords, the Johns Hopkins refugee law project in Kampala has found that nearly 40% of male refugees in some Ugandan refugee camps have been victims of male rape and now live in constant fear that they will be arrested for engaging in same-sex practices under Ugandan law. In fact, research from the International Strategic Studies Association found that 90% of men in conflict countries have no legal protection in cases of male rape, and 67 countries criminalise men who report rape. So will the Government follow the advice from the refugee law project to strengthen the investigative and humanitarian services dealing with sexual violence and revise the training of immigration services assessing the asylum applications from male rape victims fleeing conflict countries?

My Lords, work is going on to dig down to discover the type of asylum claims that are being made, and we hope to have some information towards the end of the year. However, no one will have failed to notice the conference on ending sexual violence in conflict which took place here last week. We lead the way in many areas of human rights, and the legalisation of gay marriage in this country is certainly a step forward in terms of human rights and equality. I think that we can be leaders in this area.

My Lords, you do not need to feel much empathy to understand fully the fear and terror felt by gay men and women in Uganda, who risk life imprisonment or the death penalty just for being themselves. It is clear that there has been an increase in reports of violent attacks on gay people since the passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act in 2014. Given the figures that the noble Baroness has just given us about the number of people who applied for asylum in this country and were either refused or accepted, what training and advice are being given to the immigration officials who have to make a judgment on these asylum claims?

I thank the noble Baroness for that question—she raises an important point. The figures on asylum refusals and acceptances may not be based on the same year: in other words, the figures for 2013 do not necessarily relate to the applications for 2013. It is, as I say, a very important point. I have forgotten the second part of the noble Baroness’s question.

I was asking about the training and advice given to the immigration officials who have to make a judgment on these asylum claims.

There have been a few high-profile cases where completely inappropriate questions have been asked, and that has led to the training being refreshed for those who conduct such interviews. There is no need to provide sexually explicit material in an asylum application interview, and that is being made clear to applicants. We also work with partners such as Stonewall, the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group and the UNHCR to develop the framework for the interview. The interview does not seek to prove that somebody is LGBT but rather to establish that the claim is valid.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that one of the reasons why there has been an increase in the number of people seeking asylum on these grounds is the passage of legislation in countries such as Uganda but also Nigeria, Burundi and elsewhere, which has increasingly criminalised people’s personal sexuality? Does she further agree that this is something that should be raised directly through the Commonwealth, as a number of the countries involved are members of the Commonwealth and share our values?

That is an important point. Many of the claims for asylum in the past year have come from countries such as Syria and Eritrea, but we are for ever vigilant about these types of cases and continue to make representations to the Commonwealth and to the offending Governments. Uganda is not the only country involved.

My Lords, in answer to an earlier question the noble Baroness said that the Government do not have statistics on the number of people who claim asylum here on grounds of their sexuality. Given the importance of this issue and the penalties faced by those returning to some of the countries where homosexuality is criminalised—possibly life imprisonment or even the death penalty—should not the Government reconsider this point and keep statistics not only on the number of those who claim asylum on these grounds but, sadly, on the number of those who, having claimed asylum on those grounds, are returned to their countries of origin?

As I said in an earlier response, this is exactly what the Home Office is seeking to do—to dig down into the information that we have, and to establish where those asylum claims might be coming from and what types of claims they are.