Theresa May orders review of gay asylum claim handling

UK Border Controls Image copyright PA
Image caption Theresa May says all asylum applicants should be treated with "respect and dignity"

The home secretary has ordered a review of how border officials handle asylum claims from gay and lesbian applicants.

The move by Theresa May follows reports that some faced explicit questions and others were asked to hand over video evidence to prove their sexuality.

She asked Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration John Vine to review asylum claims on grounds of sexual orientation - not behaviour.

Gay rights charity Stonewall said the review would lead to a "fairer system".

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mrs May says asylum seekers asked "inappropriate" questions

MPs have raised concerns in the past that the process for gay and lesbian asylum applicants - many of whom are fleeing persecution in their home country because of their sexuality - relied too heavily on anecdotal evidence.

Some have been asked to prove that they are gay, often with "inappropriate" questions from Home Office officials, Mrs May said.

In a letter to Mr Vine, the home secretary said: "We do need to establish that the risk of persecution is real, and this will often depend on whether the sexual orientation of the asylum seeker is as claimed.

'Respect and dignity'

"We seek to establish this at interview through questions about sexual orientation, not sexual behaviour."

Ms May said it was "disappointing" to have discovered these guidelines may not have been followed in at least one case in which an asylum applicant was asked inappropriate questions.

"We are committed to treating all asylum claimants with respect and dignity and we want to continue to improve on current practice in this area," she said.

Mr Vine has been tasked with reviewing the adequacy of guidance for staff and claimants and training. He will also look at a sample of case files to establish whether guidance and training is being followed.

Head of policy for the Stonewall campaign group, James Taylor, said: "Sadly lesbian, gay and bisexual people are all too often subject to degrading treatment throughout the asylum process.

"Caseworkers should always seek to establish whether a legitimate fear of persecution exists, not on an applicant's sexual relations or stereotypical views of gay life."

Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption Stonewall says gay, lesbian and bisexual people are too often subjected to "degrading" treatment

He added that while the Home Office had made some positive progress, the review was a welcome step toward creating a fairer system.

Chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee Keith Vaz said it was "unacceptable" that gay and lesbian individuals were being asked to share intimate information.

'Intolerable pressure'

"Our committee received evidence that applicants were being asked ridiculous questions that were inappropriate, about things they couldn't prove," Mr Vaz said.

"They were being asked to give intimate information about their private lives which put applicants under intolerable pressure."

A leaked Home Office document revealed how one bisexual asylum seeker was asked explicit questions about his sexual practices.

The questions, which were typed up by a Home Office employee and dated last October, were branded an "interrogation".

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