By Sonia Elks
LONDON, July 12 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Gay and transgender asylum seekers in Britain are being unfairly denied refuge because authorities are demanding excessive proof of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and rejecting claims based on flawed assumptions, a charity said on Thursday.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) people claiming asylum face insensitive and inappropriate questioning, and are routinely disbelieved, said a report by the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG).
More than 3,500 people claimed asylum in Britain based on their sexuality, gender identity or intersex status between 2015 and 2017, according to the Home Office (interior ministry).
Home Office data shows an estimated 6 percent of all asylum claims made in Britain between July 2015 and March 2017 were based on sexual orientation. Around a quarter were approved.
"The Home Office is setting the bar too high for LGBTQI+ people to claim asylum," said Leila Zadeh, executive director of UKLGIG, which analysed about 90 asylum interviews of LGBTQI people and Home Office refusal letters between 2015 and 2017.
Asylum seekers' accounts of same-sex relations back in their home nations - from kissing in public to sending love letters - or their belief in religions such as Islam while being gay, are often dismissed as implausible by state officials, said UKLGIG.
The Home Office frequently dimisses statements from friends and partners of LGBTQI people about their sexual orientation or gender identity, and ignores evidence from charities, it said.
"LGBTQI+ people are being faced with a range of barriers: refusal if they don't claim asylum straight away, dismissal of supporting evidence, and humiliating questioning," Zadeh added.
The Home Office was not immediately available to comment, but earlier this year told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that it "remains committed to improving the process for those claiming asylum on this basis (for LGBTQI asylum seekers)".
Female asylum seekers face greater scrutiny from Home Office officials than men about their sexual orientation, with one woman's claim refused partly because she said she had not been attracted to women until later in life, according to the report.
"It is an epidemic (the number of LGBTQI asylum seekers denied refuge in Britain), and it is something that nobody wants to talk about," said Bisi Alimi, a Britain-based campaigner and the founder of the Bisi Alimi Foundation, a gay rights charity.
Campaigners say a lack of protection for LGBTQI asylum seekers is a widespread problem in Europe - from people in Germany being intimidated during interviews to those in Ireland facing threats from other claimants in accommodation centres.
Europe's top court this year effectively barred testing the sexual orientation of asylum seekers after Hungarian immigration officials put a Nigerian man through psychological tests to determine whether he was telling the truth that he was gay.
(Reporting By Sonia Elks, Editing by Kieran Guilbert (Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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