An asylum seeker is someone of any age who has fled their home country to find a safe place elsewhere. A refugee is someone whose asylum application is successful.
Who can apply for asylum in the UK?
The UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugee sets out who can apply for refugee status. It outlines their rights and the legal obligations of the countries that abide by it. The criteria that an asylum applicant must meet in order to be eligible are:
- they must be outside of their own country
- they have a well-founded fear of persecution
- they have experienced persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion
- they are unable to obtain protection in their own country.
Lesbian, gay, bi and trans people can be considered a ‘social group’ for the purposes of an asylum claim.
Any individual making an application for asylum should seek legal advice as soon as possible. Asylum law is complex and hard to navigate without professional and experienced support from a solicitor who understands the issues faced by LGBT people. You can contact Stonewall’s Information Service for LGBT-friendly solicitors and support groups or check our What's In My Area? page.
What does 'a well-founded fear of persecution' mean?
An individual will be considered to face ‘persecution’ if they can show they face serious harm in their home country. Usually this will be in the form of physical danger such as beatings, torture, death, detention or long-term imprisonment. Severe discrimination, such as denial of employment or housing, can also be considered.
The persecution can come from Government authorities, or from sections of the wider community that the Government is unable or unwilling to prevent.
Intolerance from other people and communities, including derogatory comments and stigmatisation, will not alone count as persecution. The fact that a person will be able to live a more open life in the UK as a lesbian, gay, bi or trans person also does not in itself qualify them for refugee status.
Refugee status is also not automatically granted to an LGBT person if it is unlawful to be lesbian, gay, bi or trans, or to be in a same-sex relationship, in their home country. However, if the law is enforced and the punishments are serious then a person at real risk may be eligible for refugee status.
Hiding sexuality because of a well-founded fear of persecution
For some years, many asylum courts ruled it would be ‘reasonably tolerable’ for lesbian, gay and bi people to be secretive about their sexuality in their own country to avoid persecution. Many were denied refugee status as a result of this. However, in 2010 an important court case rejected this idea, and it is now agreed that if a lesbian, gay or bi person has to hide their sexual orientation in order to protect themselves from persecution, they are eligible for refugee status in the UK.
It is important for applicants to put forward the best case they can at the earliest stage.
Documents that can be included with an application for asylum include:
- A detailed and comprehensive witness statement giving all the circumstances of life in their home country, their escape and their life in the UK
- A statement from any lawyer who represented the applicant in their home country
- A medical statement, if the applicant has suffered mental or physical injury
- Details about their home country, which highlight risks that LGBT people face there
- Letters or statements from friends, relatives or other members of the LGBT community