Saturday, November 19, 2011, by Bertrand Borg
Many European countries including Malta, were ill-equipped to deal with asylum issues stemming from persecution on gender or sexual orientation grounds. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli
Asylum seekers suffering gender-related persecution were being let down by inadequate procedures, a number of experts warned yesterday.
Many European countries, in-cluding Malta, were ill-equipped to deal with asylum issues stemming from persecution on gender or sexual orientation gr-ounds, an EU-wide report, titled Fleeing Homophobia, noted.
Difficulties in dealing with such discrimination were exacerbated by asylum seekers often being unable to self-identify themselves as victims of gender persecution, Amnesty International gender expert Elise Petitpas explained.
Ms Petitpas was speaking at a seminar organised by human ri-ghts organisation Aditus yesterday.
The seminar brought together stakeholders from government, academic and civil society agencies to analyse and debate existing frameworks for identifying and dealing with gender-based persecution.
Problems in existing frameworks began at the legislative level and permeated down to asylum case interviewers not receiving adequate training.
Many asylum seekers came from societies where sexual violence or being anything other than heterosexual was taboo, European Women’s Lobby gender and sexual violence expert Selmin Caliskan said.
Identifying victims of such persecution therefore required more care than simply asking asylum seekers about their sexual history or orientation, Ms Caliskan said. “Many women find themselves faced with a dilemma: either not saying they have been raped and risk being sent back to where they face more persecution or speaking up, having a case for asylum but being shamed and branded as having been raped,” she said.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender asylum seekers faced similar issues, which asylum processing procedures did not take into account, Aditus director Neil Falzon said.“It is unrealistic to expect asylum seekers fleeing homophobic persecution to disclose their sexual orientation the moment they are picked up by national authorities and filed for refugee status,” Dr Falzon said.
Although the 1951 UN Refugee Convention does not explicitly list gender or sexual orientation as one of the grounds for granting refugee status, EU legislation states that gender-related aspects “shall be given due consideration” when determining refugee status.
Many European countries, including Malta, do not consider persecution due to sexual orientation to be sufficient grounds for asylum, even when homosexuality is explicitly outlawed in the applicants’ home state.
The Fleeing Homophobia report also found that in many EU states, LGBT asylum seekers’ applications were rejected on the basis that they could be expected to survive in their home country if they were discreet and hid their sexual orientation. British courts have found that this expectation violated an individual’s fundamental human rights. European asylum directives are in the process of being reformed to better reflect issues faced by asylum seekers and recipient countries. It is expected that they will give greater consideration to persecution on gender-related grounds.
Asylum case interviewers often did not know how to identify cases of gender-based discrimination and relied on LGBT ste-reotypes to determine the veracity of claims, ILGA-Europe senior policy officer Joël Le Deroff said.
He cited examples from the UK, where asylum officers exp-ected LGBT asylum seekers to be members of gay lobby groups or be familiar with the works of Oscar Wilde.
Asylum Aid policy manager Debora Singer said that many of the issues faced by LGBT asylum seekers could also be applied to women asylum seekers.
Lack of awareness was key, Ms Singer said. In many cases, female asylum seekers who were subjected to systematic domestic and sexual violence were not aware that they should mention this in their asylum application.
According to Ms Petitpas, despite the examples of bad practice, there are several opportunities for improvements to the system in place.
If female and LGBT asylum seekers were given access to more information and greater input in their choice of interviewer and interpreter, existing procedural gaps would be significantly bridged, she said.
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