The European Court of Justice yesterday issued a judgement saying that refugees who claim asylum on the grounds that they are gay should not have to undergo ‘tests’ to prove their orientation. In this latest ruling, the court found that determining a refugee’s sexual orientation had to be consistent with EU law. So So Gay has reported in the past that asylum seekers were often asked inappropriate questions by Border Force officers, drawing strong condemnation from a House of Commons committee.

Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London and Rapporteur on the revision of the Qualifications Directive – one of the Directives being examined in the older version of the judgement – said in response: ‘Today’s judgment is welcome, if overdue. It indicates to Member States that the methods they use to assess applications for asylum based on sexual orientation must be in line with the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Charter, such as the right to respect for human dignity and the right to respect for private and family life. Crucially, these assessments must be made on an individual basis so these are much-needed improvements.’

The case concerns three people who sought asylum in the Netherlands because of fear of persecution in their country of origin. Each was refused asylum on the grounds that their sexual orientation had not been proven. The Court ruled that verification methods used by member states must be consistent with EU law and, in particular, respect the human dignity of asylum seekers and the right to respect for private and family life.

The Court added:

  • The assessment of an asylum seeker’s statements and evidence cannot be founded on questions based on stereotyped notions alone.
  • While authorities are entitled to interview asylum applicants, questions concerning the details of sexual practices are precluded and contrary to the right to respect of private and family life.
  • Member States must not allow ‘tests’ or even the production by applicants of evidence such as films of their intimate acts. Not only does such evidence have no value, it would infringe the human dignity of those seeking asylum.
  • The fact that an asylum seeker did not declare their sexual orientation at the outset cannot be used as the sole reason for rejecting their credibility.

Paul Dillane, Executive Director of the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG), commented: ‘This ruling is timely, as the Home Office here in the UK has been heavily criticised for its handling of claims from lesbian, gay and bisexual asylum seekers. A recent investigation into the Home Office found that unhelpful stereotypes, as well as inappropriate and humiliating questioning, pervade asylum interviews. These practices corrupt asylum decisions and need to be eradicated. The Home Secretary must take steps to implement the Court’s ruling to ensure lesbian, gay and bisexual people who are fleeing human rights abuses are granted refugee protection and are treated with dignity and respect.’

This judgement is within the context of a report in October this year, by the UK independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, which found that ten per cent of interviews involved questions of an ‘unsatisfactory nature’. The case is significant across the EU because of increased numbers of gay people seeking asylum in Europe. Most African countries, along with some other countries, regard homosexuality as a crime, punishable with imprisonment or even by death.