My Lords, the Government are extremely concerned by reports of the detention and ill treatment of more than 100 gay men in Chechnya. I issued a statement on 7 April which was publicly supported by the Foreign Secretary. Officials in our embassy in Moscow raised our concerns with the Russian Government on 13 April. The EU made a statement on behalf of all member states at the OSCE, and the UK delivered a national statement at the Council of Europe.
I thank the Minister for her Answer. We now have clear evidence that gay people are being detained in camps in Chechnya and hunted in Russia. In circumstances where people are in fear for their lives, will the UK Government consider a form of leave to enter in order that people can seek international protection in the UK?
My Lords, the noble Baroness raises the critical issue of the safety of individuals who are facing not just persecution: the Chechen leader Kadyrov wants their elimination before the start of Ramadan on 26 May. In the light of that, it is important for the whole of the international community to work together to resolve these issues, and that is what we shall certainly do. With regard to our asylum procedures, we are in the process of carrying out a commitment to improve the asylum processes for those claiming asylum on the basis of their sexual or gender identity. Decision-makers are provided with dedicated guidance on the management of such claims. We are working closely with NGOs and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to develop this guidance and training and make it work better.
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate raises an issue that was partly addressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker. I assure her that we are working on this. That work has to be sensitive because I do not wish to expose anybody to real personal danger. Let us not underestimate the gravity of the situation in Chechnya. The threats that have been made both by the leaders and by people in the community are abhorrent. We will do our best to achieve international agreement on the safety of people who are threatened.
It is the turn of the Conservative Benches.
My Lords, the Chechen Republic is a federal subject of the Russian Federation and comes under the authority of the Russian Government in Moscow, so with regard to issues in Chechnya the buck stops with President Putin. With regard to wider issues across Russia, we believe that the situation for LGBT people has deteriorated since the law banning the promotion of non-traditional sexual relations among minors was passed in June 2013. It is a very worrying situation.
My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for all the work she has done and the support she has given to this cause, in particular her statement of 7 April. In that statement, she made clear that she was calling on the Russian Government to investigate these allegations promptly. The Minister quite rightly says that since then the Chechen President has threatened to “eliminate”—eliminate—all gay men and members of the LGBT community by the start of Ramadan, on 26 May. The Russian LGBT Network has been on the front line of trying to protect gay men in Chechnya, but so far the Russian authorities have refused to launch any formal investigation into the testimonies they have collected. May I ask the Minister to continue to put pressure on the Russian authorities to start the investigation into those testimonies? If they will not do so, will the UK, EU or UN do more to highlight the testimonies from those who are being persecuted?
My Lords, the noble Lord makes extremely valid points. I commit us to continuing to work on these matters throughout purdah, during which we can still do things, wholly within the rules, to uphold existing policy. I give him an assurance on that. It will be for a new Government to look at how they wish to act through co-operation across the international community, in both the Human Rights Council and the United Nations Security Council, but I would hope that any Government would wish to follow that course.
My Lords, I also welcome what the noble Baroness has said, but she will be aware that these very vulnerable men are vulnerable not only due to the actions of their Government but now from honour killings. Can she expedite what she has said she will do in terms of visas?
My Lords, the Answer I gave was with regard to asylum, and I want to make that absolutely clear. The noble Baroness raises a critical issue when she refers to the so-called honour killings of gay men by family members. To put this into context, detainees who have been held are being sent back home, which is tantamount to a death sentence, because police are using families to lure gay men back to the region to be arrested and they are then reportedly either tortured or killed. We are told that families are hunting down escapees and handing them over to the authorities. This situation needs international co-operation. I believe, from what has been said in this House today, that we have all-party co-operation.