Sexual orientation
3 min

UK turns down gay Zimbabwean refugees?

BY ROB SALERNO – The South African reports that a United Kingdom court has ruled that lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans asylum claimants from Zimbabwe are likely to be turned down, on the grounds that the African country has a thriving gay scene in the capital city Harare and in Bulawayo.

It’s a perhaps surprising assessment of a country where the president, Robert Mugabe — ruler since independence in 1987 — has made many public statements calling homosexuality “an abomination . . . repugnant to my human conscience . . . immoral and repulsive . . . lower than pigs and dogs.” He has also accused his rivals of being homosexuals, in a country known for the arbitrary arrest and torture of gay and lesbian activists, and corrective rape of lesbians.

I can’t find any British reports to corroborate any recent asylum rulings, but this April 2011 Home Office Operational Guidance Note for Zimbabwe does note: 

There is an ingrained cultural, religious and political prejudice toward lesbians and gays in Zimbabwe. People who are openly gay or lesbian are often forced to endure degrading verbal assaults. Lesbian and bisexual women often face far more severe discrimination because of the traditional lower status of women in Zimbabwean society. . .

Gay rights activists may be targeted by the police, CIO and CID. This will generally be in the form of harassment — these agencies will typically approach an activist and try to impart a sense of fear that what they are doing is wrong, is not acceptable and they shouldn’t be encouraging others. There have been isolated cases of arbitrary arrest of gay men and gay rights activists and searches of their properties and person, often in an attempt to find such things as membership lists. Detention following such arrests tends not to be for very long — when it hears of such cases GALZ [Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe] works with Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. The longest that a GALZ activist has been detained is for 6 days.

It also notes:

The Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) have however said that Zimbabwe is not the worst place in the world in which to be gay or lesbian even though the President, government officials and church leaders have whipped up a climate of hysterical homophobia. Nevertheless, there is growing tolerance of LGBT in Zimbabwe especially amongst younger people in urban areas who have grown up with the knowledge that gay and lesbian people exist within their midst.

GALZ has also said that it is possible for a man to be openly gay in Zimbabwe. In high density areas openly gay men may face isolated violence, taunting and harassment and may also face discrimination in the provision of services on account of their sexuality. The situation is more permissive in middle class areas, where gay men enjoy respect as they are generally successful. Levels of tolerance of gay men and understanding of LGBT issues have generally increased among the public.

GALZ say that although general homophobia and restrictive legislation make it difficult for LGBT people in Zimbabwe to feel safe about being open about their sexuality in public spaces, the gay and lesbian social scene in Zimbabwe is “vibrant” and “flourishing” and other sources also point to two gay friendly nightclubs in the Borrowdale area of Harare.

However, the report concludes that:

It is therefore unlikely that a gay man or lesbian will be able to establish a claim to asylum or Humanitarian Protection on the basis of their sexuality alone . . . Each case must however be examined on its own merits. Where caseowners conclude that a claimant is at real risk of persecution in Zimbabwe on account of their sexual orientation then they should be granted asylum because gay men, lesbians and bisexuals in Zimbabwe may be considered to be members of a particular social group.

If an individual chooses to live discreetly because he/she wants to avoid embarrassment or distress to her or his family and friends he/she will not be deemed to have a well founded fear of persecution and will not qualify for asylum. This is because he/she has adopted a lifestyle to cope with social pressures and not because he/she fears persecution due to her or his sexual orientation.

If an individual chooses to live discreetly because he/she fears persecution if he/she were to live as openly gay, lesbian or bisexual then he/she will have a well founded fear and should be granted asylum. It is important that gay, lesbian and bisexual people enjoy the right to live openly without fear of persecution. They should not be asked or be expected to live discreetly because of their well founded fear of persecution due to their sexual orientation.

So it seems that the current standard is conditional on individual circumstances. I’ll continue to follow this if new details emerge from Britain.

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