By Rachel Savage
LONDON, Nov 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - It is getting harder to win asylum in Britain based on sexual orientation, government data showed on Thursday, with only 22 percent of claims approved in 2017 down from 39 percent in 2015.
The downward trend was slightly steeper than for other types of asylum applications, the Home Office (interior ministry) said, although critics said officials expect too much and often disbelieve gay claimants who do not apply immediately.
"We have seen people whose claims have been refused in part because they didn't use enough emotional language," said Leila Zadeh, executive director of the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group, which supports LGBT+ asylum seekers.
"It's incredibly difficult for somebody to tell the Home Office about this aspect of identity that they have never ever spoken about and that they feel ashamed to talk about."
A Home Office spokesman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that all asylum claims were carefully considered on their individual merits and decision-makers were given dedicated training on how to handle cases based on sexual orientation.
"No one who is found to be at risk of persecution or serious harm in their country of origin because of their sexuality will be returned," he said in emailed comments.
Some 2,000 people a year apply for asylum on the grounds of persecution for being gay, lesbian or bisexual, accounting for about 7 percent of total claims, the Home Office data showed.
The number of approvals for claims based on sexuality fell to 423 in 2017 from 620 in 2015, data showed.
The new figures come amid growing concern in Britain about LGBT+ asylum seekers being deported to countries where they face persecution.
Kenneth Macharia, a gay Kenyan who has lived in Britain since 2009 and worked in the country legally, faces the prospect of deportation, with almost 100,000 people signing a petition on change.org for him to be granted asylum.
Although the 2017 approval rate for gay claims at 22 percent was 10 percent lower than for all types of application, the Home Office said the "nationality of the applicant typically (proved) a more influential factor than any sexual orientation element".
The highest number of asylum applications based on sexual orientation came from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Uganda and Iran between 2015 and 2017, the data showed.
One likely reason for the higher refusal rates for gay claimants was a lack of legal aid and of immigration lawyers with experience of LGBT+ cases, said Nath Gbikpi, a lawyer at Wesley Gryk Solicitors who has represented LGBT+ asylum seekers.
"The asylum interview is a weird experience and if you haven't had a legal representative who explained to you how it works, the most genuine claimant may very well have issues," he said.
(Reporting by Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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