Friday, November 18, 2011, 15:34 , by Bertrand Borg
Existing European asylum procedures do not adequately provide for gender and sexual orientation-based persecution, European gender awareness experts have warned.
An EU-wide report on homophobic persecution had found that there were significant discrepancies between EU member states in the ways in which they dealt with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persecution claims by asylum seekers, Aditus director Neil Falzon explained.
The report, titled "Fleeing Homophobia", also found that in many cases current practice fell well short of international and EU standards, with asylum authorities poorly equipped to identify and react to LGBT-related issues.
In many European countries, being LGBT is not considered sufficient grounds for being granted asylum even if it is a criminal offence in the country of origin. The report also found that many countries reject LGBT asylum seekers' applications on the grounds that they can survive in their country if they hide their sexual orientation. Recent UK case law has found that such an expectation runs counter to a person's fundamental human rights.
Difficulties were exacerbated by legislative uncertainty, Jesuit Refugee Service legal officer Celine Warnier De Wailly said. Although the 1951 Refugee Convention does not specifically refer to gender-based persecution as grounds for granting refugee status, case law in some countries had accepted it as part of discrimination based on belonging to a specific "social group". EU legislation states that countries must give "due consideration" to gender-related aspects when assessing asylum applications.
The Maltese Refugee Commissioner, however, has stated that it does not believe gender persecution was sufficient grounds under the 1951 Convention. European legislation is currently being redrafted to reflect modern-day asylum concerns.
ILGA-Europe senior policy officer Joel Le Deroff explained how in many cases, national officials tasked with interviewing asylum seekers had little idea of how to approach or tackle gender-based prosecution.
In many cases, procedures for determining a claimant's sexual orientation were based on outdated medical models or gender stereotypes, with little guidelines, Mr Le Deroff said.
Asylum Aid policy and research manager Debora Singer said that national policies were often culturally insensitive at dealing with such cases. "A female asylum seeker escaping sexual violence is unlikely to willingly admit she was raped when she first arrives in Europe," Ms Singer said.
Despite the several examples of bad practice, there were opportunities for change and improvement, Amnesty International's Elise Petitpas said. Ms Petitpas said that if affected asylum seekers were given access to adequate information, allowed gender-sensitive interviews and afforded separate asylum applications, their fundamental human rights would be better safeguarded.
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