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Asylum: Sexual Orientation

Volume 777: debated on Wednesday 14 December 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many people claiming asylum in the last year did so on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity; and of those, how many have been granted asylum.

My Lords, the Home Office does not publish statistics on the basis of asylum claims or the decisions arising from them. This is true for claims relating to gender and sexual identity. The Home Office is considering how data from its casework database may be assured and used to provide such information to a sufficiently accurate standard.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, but those who sit on the Home Office strategic engagement group, set up after the Vine report in June 2014, will be surprised by it. At the last meeting, in September of this year, a senior civil servant said that the only reason that the statistics have not yet been published is because they are waiting for authority from the Minister. Which is wrong: the Answer from the Dispatch Box or the civil servant, who says that they will be published with the authority of the Minister?

My Lords, I am not that Minister. However, I can say that the Home Office collects information that records whether a claim is based on sexual orientation, and it is likely to correlate with the claimant’s sexual orientation, although an individual may have an asylum claim that is quite distinct from their sexual orientation. The data are management information only—I can assure the noble Lord of that—and they do not form part of our published statistics because they have not been quality assured to a sufficient standard.

My Lords, claiming asylum on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity is deeply intrusive and personal. Often claimants have to prove their sexual orientation by disclosing elements of their private lives. Therefore, given the noble Baroness’s commitment to issues of equality, will she work with organisations such as the UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group, Stonewall and others to ensure that the approach taken towards them is fair, just and balanced?

The Home Office works, and continues to work, with groups like Stonewall, and we know that some of the training received by people who process claims has improved and that questions are much more sensitively put than perhaps some of the anecdotal evidence from the past suggests. The 2014 report of the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration into the handling of sexual orientation claims praised our guidance.

What is the Government’s reaction to Stonewall’s recent recommendations that alternatives to detaining LGBT asylum seekers should be developed, drawing on international best practice?

I can tell my noble friend that certainly the Shaw review recommended that transgender and intersex people should be in the vulnerable persons category and as a general principle should not be detained.

My Lords, it seems that the Government are constantly making decisions based on total lack of data. Six years ago the Science and Technology Select Committee had this question about immigration with regard to students. We now have it with regard to this issue as well. When will the Government, and in particular the Home Office, make strides to ensure that the data they are presenting are accurate and relevant to the decisions being made?

The point I was making in my previous answer, which perhaps was not sufficiently articulated, was that we do not feel that the management data are as yet sufficiently robust, but I can keep the House updated on when such information might be available.

My Lords, the department has been sitting on this information for two years. In that time, how many LGBT people have claimed asylum on the basis of their sexual orientation and how many of them have been denied?

My Lords, as I said, those data are not published, so I cannot give the noble Baroness an answer at this time.

My Lords, the Minister confirmed in a Written Answer to my noble friend Lord Scriven that the Government do not record people who apply to the Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme on grounds of sexuality. She will be aware that it was a recommendation of the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration that such information should be recorded. Can she therefore tell me how the Government can monitor whether these claims are being handled properly?

My Lords, I said that this information is not published but that the Government collect it. There is guidance and there have been improvements in training, so we take this matter very seriously, as I hope I have explained. It is bad enough having to come here from a country where you have been persecuted because of your sexuality without then having to go through another very uncomfortable process, so we continue to monitor the guidance and the training around this very sensitive area.

The Minister referred in her last answer to information that was there but not published. Why is it not published?

My Lords, I think that I have explained twice that it is management information only and that it is not yet sufficiently quality assured to be published. We need published information to be robust.

My Lords, can the Minister explain how this House can hold the Government to account if they refuse to publish the figures?

I cannot but I can assure noble Lords that, as soon as I get any information on this, your Lordships will be the first to know.