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Sunday, March 9

Labour's ongoing gay refugee shame

In September 2003, Israfil Shiri, a gay Iranian asylum seeker, died after pouring petrol over himself and setting himself on fire in the offices of Refugee Action in Manchester, after his asylum claim was refused (in the lower and appeal court) and his deportation to Iran, where he would have been hanged, had been arranged. Iranian authorities had obtained documented evidence of his sexuality.

In April 2005 Hussein Nasseri shot himself two weeks after his asylum claim was turned down by the Home Office, refusing in this way to let himself be killed by Iranian executioners.

In 2005 then Home Secretary Charles Clarke was asked by Stonewall to intervene when an Appeal court judge used the following language in turning down a refugee's claim:

'He [the asylum seeker] says he fled when he realised a member of his coterie had been arrested by them, apparently leaving an incriminating video in their hands, showing unseemly activity on the part of this appellant and others.'
The 'independent' judge also went on about "buggery". Nothing happened. Clarke let it go on unchallenged. All of the previous appeals to previous Home Secretaries for previous cases of Iranians and other gay refugees have failed.

Last year a campaign was fought to save Iranian lesbian Pegah Emambakhsh. She was eventually released but her last appeal has now been turned down and she remains under real threat. Thankfully, she was also featured in this week's Independent coverage but that is no guarantees she will not face stoning on deportation because the policy lying behind all this has not changed.

The policy of the British government in the case of foreign gays and lesbians is that their sexuality is a choice, they can simply hide or move and nothing bad will happen to them. As noted before, this directly contradicts the Foreign Office. I'd add that this is in sharp contradiction to the face presented to British gays.

Jacqui Smith is just the latest in years of Labour Home Secretaries who have trumpeted their claims on gay rights to British gay voters whilst being responsible for the most vile homophobia within their own department - when it comes to foreigners. This is two-faced one law for 'us', another for 'them'. Their ongoing appeasement of this homophobia, to my mind, indicates to me where their true feelings lie: that they are no real 'friend of the gay community' anywhere. They cannot claim that they don't know about it - as they've done before - least of all this week when it's front page news.

This week, in responding to the Mehdi Kazemi case, the government has responded that each case is "carefully considered" and that everyone has the "right to appeal". But none of this matters one iota because of the policy which lies behind it which is — we don't accept that gay people are persecuted anywhere and therefore they have no right to refugee status.

This is all made even worse by the tiny numbers involved, giving the lie to statements by the like of the Tory East Midlands MEP who stopped just short in an email from a supporter of Mehdi Kazemi of saying 'we'll be swamped by gays fleeing Islamic countries'. Neither Holland or Sweden, who have different policies to the UK, have been 'swamped'.

A few questions:
  • When is the British Press going to cover the shameful policy which lies behind these refusals of asylum and start asking real questions?
  • When is the vile homophobia within the Home Office going to be challenged by the various anti-discrimination bodies and characters like Trevor Phillips?
  • When are gay and lesbian Labour supporters and MPs going to stand up for gay refugees?


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