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Asylum: Sexual Orientation

Volume 764: debated on Monday 20 July 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to implement the recommendations in the report by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration of March–June 2014 regarding the handling of asylum claims made on the grounds of sexual orientation, and if so, when.

My Lords, the Home Office has been actively working to implement the recommendations. An updated asylum instruction considering sexual identity issues in the asylum claim has been issued. Approved training for staff is under development. These will ensure the sensitive and effective exploration of asylum claims based on sexuality. The Home Office is conducting “second pair of eyes” checks on all such claims to ensure the consistent recording of cases and more accurate data.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. He may be aware that an action plan has been agreed with third sector organisations that has become more “plan” than “action”. Can he say when the action plan will be implemented and, if not, will he write to me giving a date? Also, could the person overseeing the action plan be someone equivalent to the director of asylum, rather than a junior policy officer, as is presently the case?

I am aware of the action plan; it has been drawn up in consultation with the national asylum stakeholders group, which includes groups that work specifically with lesbian, gay and bisexual organisations. He will be aware of the report of the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration: we have accepted all its recommendations and they are in the process of being implemented. I do not have a final date for when that will be concluded, but I shall certainly speak with officials about that and write to him.

What action is being taken to combat the harassment and bullying of LGBT people in certain immigration centres, as documented by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees and other bodies?

A review is going on into the very serious accusations that were made. It has been part of the Stephen Shaw review, which will report shortly. We take those accusations very seriously, and new guidelines are being prepared to ensure that such things do not happen again.

Bearing in mind that the chief inspector made a number of critical observations in his report, including on training, inconsistency of approach, the recording of information and the stereotyping of applicants—as well as the very differing appeal rates for detained fast-track sexual orientation decisions compared with detained fast-track asylum claims as a whole—when is a further independent investigation going to be carried out to check whether the required improvements in dealing with claims made on the basis of sexual orientation have actually been made, as opposed to the Home Office saying that they have, and are actually being delivered?

We have to be very careful that we do not have overlapping investigations. A serious piece of work was done following some very serious accusations by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration last year, and we have undertaken to implement all the recommendations. In addition, as I mentioned to the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, a further action plan is being discussed with non-governmental organisations. We should allow those to go forward and ensure that the independent chief inspector continues to do his job in monitoring how his recommendations are implemented.

My Lords, it is good to hear that the action plan has been worked up in consultation with the organisations mentioned by my noble friend. Will they be involved in monitoring, and will the Home Office keep them in line not just for consultation on snapshot investigations and checks, but to ensure that the procedures and practices of the Home Office and of immigration officials are as we would all wish to see?

That was indeed one of the recommendations. Recommendation 4,

“Ensures that all asylum claims recorded on the grounds of sexual orientation are accurately recorded as such”.

I expect that that recording and keeping of records will help us to identify where problems might exist in the system.

My Lords, first, I declare an interest as a founder of Stonewall. Will the Minister encourage the Government to work in conjunction with the UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group, the Human Dignity Trust, the Kaleidoscope Trust and Stonewall, so that we deal sensitively with people who apply for asylum at probably their most vulnerable time—when they enter this country—and that their sexual orientation in no way becomes a bar to their gaining entry or consideration for asylum status?

The noble Lord is absolutely right, and of course, in addition to that not being a bar, the persecution of that particular social group is one of the reasons why they might be granted asylum under the Geneva Convention. The UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group is a member of the national asylum stakeholders group, to which we referred earlier, so I absolutely endorse what the noble Lord said.

My Lords, can the Minister tell me whether DfID is still taking forward the protection and support of LGBT groups—a plan that was of course devised by my former colleague Lynne Featherstone, and if he does not have the answer, could he write to let us know?

I pay tribute to the noble Baroness’s work in her role as a DfID Minister. We continue to work through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and public diplomacy to try to ensure that discrimination of that nature is tackled at source. I will look into the projects she referred to, but perhaps we can compare notes to ensure that we are looking at the right ones. However, I will be happy to look into them and ensure that they continue to receive funding.

My Lords, I understand that the former chief inspector of borders had some issues with the flexibility he was allowed in the investigations he could conduct and the publishing of his reports, rather than waiting for the publication of his annual report. Have those issues been resolved for the new inspector of borders?

That matter was looked into by the Public Accounts Committee, which made some observations on how those reports are laid. They are laid in accordance with the UK Borders Act 2007, so we feel that that is consistent. The only reason why there was a change in the way they were routed through the department was to ensure that the Home Secretary had an opportunity to look at them, as is consistent with other reports, and in line with national security and public safety.

My Lords, this is one of the issues raised by the charity, Medical Justice, in connection with the general handling of complaints about various immigration issues. Can the Minister say whether there is any concerted attempt to improve the handling of complaints on such issues?

Yes, I can certainly say that. In fact, one of the recommendations in the chief inspector’s report was precisely that there should be a change to the training module that deals with how sensitively questions are asked of people making asylum applications on the grounds of sexuality. I am pleased to say that, as of this August, everyone in the asylum claims assessment directorate will have undergone that additional training.