A Member of the Scottish Parliament has attacked the UK Border Agency treatment of gay asylum seekers as 'Kafkaesque', demanding too high a level of proof of their sexual identity or else be returned to countries where they face persecution.
Now, a support group has been established to help genuine claimants find the evidence necessary to prove they are either lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgender (LGBT) and unable to return to countries such as Iran, Zimbabwe, Uganda or Nigeria, where homosexuality is prohibited.
Patrick Harvie, Green MSP for Glasgow, said: "The situation facing LGBT people making such claims is often Kafkaesque, and I am certain that it is resulting in people being deported to face continued persecution and even death."
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He added: "I've been troubled for years about the situation LGBT asylum seekers face, and have met and heard from people with horrific experiences, made worse by their treatment in the UK."
LGBT Unity Scotland, which began operating at the beginning of this year, is working with approximately 20 gay asylum seekers who hold meetings in private – to discourage others who may pretend to be gay in order to stay in the UK.
The organisation was established by Kay Foulkes, who worked at the UK Border Agency (UKBA) for eight years as a Presenting Officer, assessing asylum seekers' claims. She describes the situation of LGBT people apply for asylum as "a complete and utter mess".
Ms Foulkes dismisses the UKBA as an intransigent and rigid organisation, where an individual member of staff's own prejudices or lack of knowledge can affect whether a person stays in the UK or is returned to their country of origin. She said: "Once the UKBA has made a decision on something they cannot change or are loath to change."
She added: "It depends on what the situation is for an individual in their home country and how much the Home Office Presenting Officer knows about it or even what that person's opinion on homosexuality is. Basically, the person doing the interview is the person who decides whether you are gay or not.
"My impression of the culture of the Home Office is that it does not encourage a culture of open-mindedness, rather it is a culture of disbelief. Their job is to catch people out and stop people getting in."
She adds that decisions on a person's sexuality can be based on cliches about how a gay person should look or act.
"My general impression is that they still have strong attitudes, where if they think of a gay man they think of an effeminate man and a lesbian must be butch. If a person applies for asylum but doesn't fit the stereotype, they can't get their heads around it.
"For a bisexual woman it is even worse. They will say; 'You can just go back and have sex with a man.'"
Foulkes gives the example of a gay man who was returned to Pakistan because the judge did not believe him about his sexuality – as he didn't know the surname of the first man he had sex with. He also didn't visit his new boyfriend at work, an older married man who worked next to other Pakistani men in a warehouse.
She explained: "The judge's opinion was that a young gay man would know far more details about the first man he slept with because it would be such an important moment in his life."
She added: "Why the judge thought a closeted married gay man would want his much younger male lover visiting him at work and the questions this might raise is beyond me.
"Unfortunately his case was decided by a judge who, rather than being objective, seems to have considered what they would have done in a similar situation. Nor do his conclusions reflect a basic knowledge of what life is like for young LGBT people in the UK or anywhere else."
Her organisation is calling for the Home Office to employ specialist officers who would have a better understanding of human sexuality.
She explained: "A specialist officer could offer some greater sensitivity. They have a lot of self-identified LGBT people working in the Home Office they could use.
"I know the Home Office won't like this suggestion that someone who is not gay won't be able to understand. But while you can sympathise, you can't have a clear understanding unless you have been through a similar situation yourself."
A UK Border Agency spokesman said: "All our caseworkers and presenting officers have received training on the management of asylum claims based on sexual orientation. The guidance and training were produced in consultation with corporate partners, including Stonewall, the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group, and the UNHCR.
He added: "We have changed our guidance to ensure we do not remove individuals who have demonstrated a proven risk of persecution on grounds of sexual orientation.
"Our position remains clear – when someone needs our protection, they will be given it."