A report by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has concluded that fast-track teams for asylum seekers who are detained are still asking ‘unsatisfactory and stereotypical’ questions.

So So Gay reported over a year ago that asylum seekers were being forced to ‘prove they are gay’ by asking them what kind of films they watch, and what kind of material they read. An article in The Observer in February 2014 found that this practice was continuing, despite orders from Parliament for it to stop, and a report from the government was commissioned.

The UK has only recognised asylum claims based on sexual orientation since 1999, when it was forced to do so by a case brought against the government by a woman from Pakistan. However, until 2010, the government decided that even if an asylum applicant’s sexual orientation was accepted, their claim could still be rejected if it was considered that they would be able to avoid persecution in their country of origin by pretending they were straight. The Supreme Court ended this practice, ruling that ‘to pretend that [a person’s sexual orientation or sexuality] does not exist… is to deny the members of this group their right to be what they are.’

Inappropriate questions included asking – in an initial interview that is meant to simply be a screening test as to whether they should continue in the asylum process, rather than substantial questioning session – when the man had become aware of his sexuality, and whether he had ever had a relationship with a woman. Another interview suggested the applicant might have had up to 100 sexual partners. A further question was asked, ‘What do you believe a relationship with a man may provide that is absent from a heterosexual partnership?’ – as though a person is able to choose their sexuality.

They also found that case workers would routinely write that someone is ‘a homosexual’, objectifying the applicant.

The UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG) sat in on some of the asylum teams’ Home Office training sessions. Paul Dillane, UKLGIG Executive Director, welcomed the Chief Inspector’s report and recommendations, adding: ‘The Chief Inspector found that stereotyping and inappropriate questions continue to occur and good policies, which we helped the Home Office develop, are not being applied consistently. The Home Office must take further action to improve asylum decision-making and ensure people whose lives are at risk because of their sexual identity are granted refugee protection in the UK.

‘The Chief Inspector expressed particular concern about the treatment of sexual identity cases in the Detained Fast Track (DFT) process. In our experience, the majority of gay, lesbian and bisexual people are detained upon claiming asylum – frequently for weeks or months – yet seeking asylum is not a crime. Sexual identity claims are inherently complex and should have no place in this detained process. We have serious concerns about conditions in immigration detention centres where people regularly recount instances of homophobic bullying, verbal abuse, threats of physical violence and even sexual harassment from other detainees. The Home Office must ensure applicants are treated with dignity and respect.’

In October 2013, UKLGIG published a report, Missing the Mark, which analysed the quality of decision-making in LGBTI asylum claims. Although some encouraging improvements were identified, they reported that LGBTI people continued to experience a range of challenges in securing refugee protection in the UK. These included inappropriate and sometimes humiliating questions, reliance on unhelpful stereotypes and barriers in ‘proving’ their sexuality due to an artificially high standard of proof.