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University of Liverpool to analyse sexual orientation and gender identity asylum claims

Claims often treated unfairly, based on inappropriate legal, cultural, and social stereotypes, says academic

8 March 2016

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As Turkey and EU agree a 'one in, one out' outline to tackle the Syrian refugee crisis, a legal academic is preparing the first ever comprehensive analysis of asylum seekers on the basis of sexuality and gender identity.

The Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Claims of Asylum (SOGICA) project aims to produce a comparative study of the legal experiences of those asylum-seekers across Europe who claim international protection on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Dr Nuno Ferreira, a Portuguese lawyer and senior lecturer at Liverpool Law School, has been awarded a European Research Council (ERC) starting grant totalling €1m to carry out the project over four years.

'Every year, thousands of individuals claim asylum in Europe based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,' said Ferreira.

'Existing studies indicate that these claims are often treated unfairly, based on inappropriate legal, cultural, and social stereotypes. It is a situation made worse by the insufficient harmonisation of high standards across Europe.

'There have been limited attempts of excellent academic quality to address this issue and this research will look to overcome this gap.'

Building on extensive documentary analysis and field work, including interviews with asylum-seekers, decision-makers, and experts, SOGICA will determine how European systems can move towards fairer assessment of this specific category of asylum claim.

With the support of three research assistants, Ferreira, also deputy director of the European Children's Rights Centre (ECRU), will compare the British, German and Italian asylum contexts.

In 2015, the Home Office published new guidance on the treatment of sexual identity issues in asylum claims following a critical report by the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, John Vine.

In October 2014, Vine said that Home Office caseworkers must not ask gay asylum seekers 'sexually explicit questions'.

The subsequent guidance stated that its caseworkers should conduct 'a sensitive enquiry into the development and exploration of the claimant's sexual identity and the extent to which it is relevant to the assessment of the need for protection. It should not be an enquiry into any explicit sexual activity'.

The guidance also stresses the importance of adhering to gay asylum judgments, especially those from the UK Supreme Court and the European Court of Justice.

However, just a few months after the guidance was issued, a Home Office lawyer argued that a Nigerian woman seeking asylum could not be gay because she had children.

Barrister, Andrew Bird, controversially argued that Aderonke Apata was 'not part of the social group known as lesbians' but had 'indulged in same-sex activity'.

'You can't be a heterosexual one day and a lesbian the next day,' he added. 'Just as you can't change your race.'

'SOGICA will radically increase the amount of evidence available around LGBT asylum claims and allow for better quality proposals, contributing to the fulfilment of the human rights and international obligations of European states,' explained Ferreira.

Liverpool Law School is building a comprehensive body of expertise in the field of refugee law, including the pro bono work delivered through Liverpool Law Clinic.

SOGICA will be used as the cornerstone for Liverpool Asylum and Refugee Knowledge, the university's interdisciplinary refugee studies network.

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