To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in implementing the recommendations of the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration in the report, An investigation into the Home Office’s Handling of Asylum Claims Made on the Grounds of Sexual Orientation, March to June 2014.
My Lords, the UK is a world leader in handling asylum claims based on sexual orientation. In their response, the Government accepted all eight recommendations from the independent chief inspector’s report, either entirely—seven—or partially—one. They have since implemented them all accordingly as part of their drive to continually improve.
I thank the Minister for that Answer. I want to move on to the issue of detention of those seeking asylum on the grounds of sexual orientation. The UK is the only country in the EU that detains indefinitely those seeking asylum on sexual orientation grounds. Therefore, will the Government commit to implementing the Yogyakarta principle plus 10, on the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity, with particular reference to ending the detention of LGBTI asylum seekers?
My Lords, I can make it absolutely clear here today that we do not detain asylum seekers indefinitely. The noble Lord will know, because I have said it here before, that detention is a last resort, and the vast majority of LGB asylum claims are processed in the non-detained system, with claimants living in the community. Only a small minority of claimants are detained while their claim is considered, and almost all of them have claimed asylum after being detained for removal. Detention under immigration powers is used only very sparingly, as I have said, and alternatives are considered before any decision to detain is made.
Are the Government taking steps to improve the quality of decision-making in LGBT asylum claims, in view of the large number of refusals that are overturned on appeal?
My Lords, the quality of the system was vastly improved after the 2014 report, which I talked about in my first Answer. In addition, the training of people dealing with LGBT asylum claims in detention or seeking their removal has been done in conjunction with both Stonewall and UKLGIG to absolutely ensure humane treatment of LGBT people in asylum.
Can I ask the noble Baroness about the Home Office guidance issued in 2017? I have seen reports suggesting that gay asylum seekers could be returned to Afghanistan if they pretended they were straight. Surely this cannot be the case. We must work to a much higher standard, and the question of personal safety should be paramount in decisions given by the authorities.
What the noble Lord says seems to be a contradiction in terms, because an LGBT person would presumably be seeking asylum because they feared persecution on return to a country that persecuted LGBT people. I would largely dispute the point, but I will double check because the noble Lord asked the question.
My Lords, I thank Her Majesty’s Government for the initial constructive response to the serious concerns—outlined in the report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, which I co-chair—about people claiming asylum on grounds of persecution for their faith or belief. In particular, there were concerns about religious-based “Trivial Pursuit”-type questions and poor interpretation of religious concepts. Will my noble friend confirm that, as in LGBTQI claims, all Home Office caseworkers, as part of their training, will now have compulsory training in asylum claims on the grounds of persecution for faith or belief?
All people in the detention estate have training in dealing with LGBT claims and claims on the grounds of faith. As with LGBT claims, faith claims are dealt with sensitively. Nobody who fears persecution because of their faith or because they are LGBT would be expected to return to a country in which that characteristic was persecuted.
My Lords, does the Minister understand that some of us are greatly concerned when her department has to ask charities and voluntary organisations to tell it how many LGBT people it has in detention? Could her department commit to producing better statistics on these people, who, after all, are often detained with the very people from whom they are fleeing persecution?
I thank the noble Baroness for bringing that up. She will know that we produced statistics at the end of last year. Figures from charities and any information that could be brought to bear in this early stage of making those statistics robust are always helpful, but clearly, we would like to get to a stage where the statistics we produce are robust. I thank the noble Baroness for her part in this.
My Lords, some of the cases we have read about in the press are almost unbelievable. The noble Baroness may not have the answer to this question in her briefing papers, but how many of the staff dealing with these matters have more than 12 months’ experience of them? How many have more than two years’ experience? At its peak, what was the size of the cut in the Home Office staff overall?
The noble Lord is right: I do not have the precise figures on me. However, I can tell him that all people in the detention estate are trained in dealing with some of these very sensitive issues.
My Lords, how aware are these officials of the very differing interpretations of and varieties within religions, as defining someone as Muslim does not particularly help in understanding what kind of Muslim they are and what kind of understanding they have? The variety within Islam is so large that it takes me a whole term to teach my students about it. Would the Government be willing to have me teach for a term to tell them about the differences just within Islam?
The noble Baroness is right to point out that religion, particularly Islam, can be interpreted in different ways in different countries. Therefore, it is very important for those in the detention estate to have religious literacy training so that they are sensitive to those differences. I will take back the noble Baroness’s point.