Can people really claim for asylum for 'simply being gay'?

Suella Braverman ruffled feathers with her recent speech in the US. Credit: PA

There has been significant controversy around Suella Braverman’s speech in the US. First in response to some of the language around multiculturalism - with some critics claiming it echoed Enoch Powell's infamous Rivers of Blood speech.

But what about the specific claims? Like the suggestion that people can secure protection for "simply being gay" and for discrimination rather than actual persecution. 

And that the whole process for claiming asylum has become much easier. 

On the second point, the Refugee Council is pushing back hard. It’s chief executive Enver Solomon argued that the government's own Nationality and Borders Act had raised the threshold for asylum claims being accepted. 

He pointed out that the legislation does not allow a person to claim on the basis of discrimination.

As for the question of LGBT+ applicants- Ms Braverman dug in on Sunday at the Tory party conference by hitting back at Elton John's critique even harder. 

As I pointed out to her in an interview in the US, people all over the world face very real persecution for being gay. In fact, homosexuality is punishable by death in 11 counties.

I also pointed to the fact that only 2% of total claims are made on the basis of sexuality. Her response was to say that from operational experience (those around her say she was involved in hundreds of immigration cases as a lawyer) she knows people pretend to be gay to claim asylum. 

It was those comments that led a number of people to contact me questioning some of the claims, stressing that 72% of that 2% were granted asylum in 2022 - with half of those rejected overturned on appeal - leaving a tiny proportion where the claim of lying could apply. 

Dr S Chelvan - a barrister who heads up immigration at 33 Bedford Row chambers - said he had practiced asylum law since 2001, specialising in LGBTQ+ cases, and was "deeply disappointed by the lack of legal accuracy" in Ms Braverman's speech. 

"I am not aware of a single reported case where refugee status in the UK is granted solely on the basis of being a woman, or gay, or being solely discriminated against," he said, arguing persecution had a high threshold - including proving a real risk of serious harm.

He gave examples of facing the death penalty or torture at the hands of the state, honour killings from family, or physical attacks by community in cases of "mob rule".

"This real risk must be sufficiently serious by its intensity or duration to constitute a serious violation of human rights." 

He also questioned the idea of people "pretending to be gay" arguing that approach "ignores the fact that even pretending to be gay - even with some of our own sub-sections of diaspora communities - can lead at best to social isolation in the UK or at worst - risk to family members back home.

He said he wanted the public to know the majority of claims are accepted to be genuine.

Ms Braverman is not being swayed on this one, with her team insisting her experience tells her otherwise. 

As well as that she knows that this can be persuasive with the public with polling suggesting large numbers of voters do agree with many of her most controversial statements. 

But also, of course, eyes are on a possible future leadership battle and Ms Braverman knows that Tory members are even more to the right on this issue than the public as a whole. 

But, on voters,  as I've pointed out before, a more extreme the position might attract people in some very critical seats, but it's certain to also repel voters elsewhere.

And the Tories' "anti" vote could be seriously damaging to them in the next election and is something they should be acutely aware of as well. 

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