The Home Office is still failing to appropriately handle asylum claims based on sexual orientation, a new investigation by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has revealed.
The investigation was ordered following an exposé by the Observer newspaper which uncovered evidence of an asylum seeker being asked inappropriate and sexually explicit questions by a Home Office case worker.
Chief Inspector John Vine’s new report shows that despite the Home Office’s promise to make improvements, people who claim asylum on the basis of their sexual orientation are still being asked intrusive questions about their sexual activity.
Inspectors found that in 11% of cases sampled, asylum seekers were asked unsatisfactory questions. Case workers also asked questions that encouraged sexually explicit responses, which were irrelevant to the asylum claim, including one applicant being asked What sexual activities did you do with your girlfriends?
Such questions were twice as likely to be asked of applicants in the detained fast track system. Staff in the detained fast track system also accepted and considered sexually explicit material as evidence. Case workers on non detained cases neither accepted nor considered such material as evidence.
The Advocate General at the European Court of Justice recently advised EU countries that intrusive questioning and either requesting evidence of sexual practice or accepting the admission of such material contributed to undermining applicants’ human dignity. The Home Office’s guidance reflects this approach and the comprehensive centralised training reiterates this.
However, staff in the detained fast track also had not attended this; instead they undertook their own shorter training. Just 22% of the claims sampled in the detained fast track were grants of protection compared to 55% of non detained cases.
Worryingly, inspectors also found that in over half of the screening interviews, applicants were asked questions that went beyond the basics of the asylum claim, in direct contradiction to Home Office policy.
Screening interviews are only supposed to establish basic information about the claimant and an indication of the basis of their claim. Officials should not pursue detailed reasoning or evidence for the substance of a person’s asylum claim at this stage.
One man from Uganda told a screening officer he could not return to his home country because he was worried he would be killed for being gay. He was then asked seven further questions; all inappropriate at the screening stage.
Refugee Council Policy Manager Judith Dennis said: “This report shows that the Home Office has a long way to go in fairly and effectively handling asylum claims based on sexual orientation, as is often the case, practice frequently fails to match up to guidance.
“Some of the findings in this report are of wider concern, as a lack of proper training and inappropriate questions being asked at screening interviews will impact on all asylum seekers’ claims.
“The Home Office makes decisions which can be life and death. It’s vital that it’s consistent in how it reaches these decisions and that all asylum seekers are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”