It’s not just the Independent Asylum Commission which has said Britain’s treatment of asylum seekers is below what’s expected of a civilised society, now the House of Lords is getting in on the act. With Mehdi Kazemi’s safety still not guaranteed by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, and another Home Office Minister showing shameful levels of complete ignorance about the way in which Iran justifies its systematic murder of gay people, a group of peers is publicly calling for no further deportations of ‘failed’ asylum seekers to Iran, a hard-fought right finally won in the Netherlands.
Jacqui Smith said, in an earlier reply to peers protesting at the government’s treatment of Mehdi:
“The Home Office Country of Origin Information Service closely monitors the human rights situation in all the countries that generate asylum-seekers to the UK, including Iran. It provides accurate, objective, sourced and up-to-date information.”
She added “The published Country Reports are updated on a rolling basis and are compiled from a wide range of external information sources including the United Nations High Commission for Refugees World Health Organisation, human rights organisations, news media and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
“The current Home Office Iran Country Report was published on 31 January 2008 and includes a specific section on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Persons.”
Yet Peter Tatchell has pointed out, the Home Office offers:
- No training on sexual orientation issues for asylum staff and adjudicators
- No explicit official policy supporting the right of refugees to claim asylum on the grounds of sexual orientation
- No action to stamp out the abuse of LGBT refugees in UK asylum detention camps
- No accurate, up-to-date information on the victimisation of LGBT people in violently homophobic countries
- No access to adequate legal representation for LGBT asylum applicants
And with the IAC highlighting three particular areas of concern:
the use of detention centres, especially to hold children, pregnant women and torture victims; the often brutal handling of removals; and the use of destitution as a tool to drive claimants out of the country
it then shouldn’t be a surprise to see that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office says that the government is:
“not aware of any individual who has been executed in Iran in recent years solely on the grounds of homosexuality, and we do not consider that there is systematic persecution of gay men in Iran.”
Yet how could it be then that a mere journalist has proven it and a rights campaigner could have it available for free public consumption? And doesn’t Doug Ireland’s work sort of make a further mockery of Lin Homer, Head of the Border and Immigration Agency’s assertion that:
“The claims made in this report are not based on any thorough knowledge. I totally refute any suggestion that we treat asylum applicants without care and compassion.”
However the Commission took testimonies from former home secretaries, policy makers, charities, asylum seekers, police, local authorities, and citizens, so how could a conclusion on the system’s inhumanity be based on ‘no thorough knowledge’? The Borders and Immigration Agency really doesn’t treat applicants without care and compassion? Peter Tatchell can break that argument in one article.
The rebellious Lords say that this is:
“not simply a legal matter but a moral one too… when we are making decisions of life or death, we must be aware of the human consequences of the cold letter of the law.”
Indeed. When the law denies legal aid, when it promotes destitution, the forcing of children into care, and when government policy for gay people advises merely to exercise ‘discretion’ in order to avoid persecution, they’re probably right, aren’t they?
Britain must match Holland’s moratorium on sending gay asylum seekers back to Iran to a certain death now. It’s a relief to see that the commission set up to oversee the asylum independently has identified the inhuman realities of the system, but given that the Borders and Immigration Agency has refuted its findings, there must be surely little hope of any immediate change to a system now fully geared to failing those most in need.