Bisexual asylum seekers face daily humiliation, routine attacks and are even forced to make sex tapes, GSN can exclusively reveal.
As part of our Bi+ Manifesto season, desperate asylum seekers have shared the devastating reality in the ways they are discriminated against once they reach ‘safer shores’.
Fearing death, assaults, rapes and arrest at home, many risk everything in a bid for freedom.
However gay and trans people are more likely to win their cases. Bisexual people are often deported back to their countries of origin.
This means being sent back to one of the 72 countries where homosexuality is illegal.
Judges, asylum officers and lawyers are often not trained in bisexuality and their ignorance can lead to fatal consequences.
A bisexual Pakistani woman, who we will call Fatina, was beaten to death days after being deported in 2015.
She was 22.
Having gone to France to study, she discovered her identity and a girlfriend. She wished to claim asylum and remain in France, free to be herself.
Her claim was rejected on the basis the asylum officers did not believe her. Fatina was technically engaged to be married to a man in Pakistan.
Fatina’s sister told GSN: ‘Our uncle had read what she posted on Facebook. He saw a picture of Fatina and her girlfriend kissing.
‘On Fatina’s return, he prepared a “welcome party” of many of his friends. She died in hospital days later from multiple skull fractures.’
‘Can’t you just go home and be in a relationship with the opposite gender?’
The UK has rejected thousands of claims based on bisexuality.
Data shows the Home Office, in the past two years, have turned away two thirds of the 3,535 gay or bi asylum applications.
Every bisexual asylum seeker GSN has spoken to for this story has said they were all asked this question:
‘Can you have a relationship with a person of the opposite gender?’
Because asylum officers fail to understand bisexuality is attraction to multiple genders, or are unable to see you cannot help who you fall in love with, they reject many credible claims.
This assumption a bisexual person can just go home and be in a relationship with the opposite gender is dangerous.
Seen as ‘straight’ in country you’re claiming asylum in and seen as ‘gay’ in your country of origin
‘Very few people in my country or in African countries can differentiate between LGBT. They term it as gay,’ Kirumila Hamid, a bisexual Ugandan appealing his failed asylum claim in the UK, said.
‘If you say you are transgender, bisexual, whatever – you’re just gay. They can’t tell the difference. In our countries it is very hard to say “I’m bisexual”. Gay is the general term.’
Grace, a bisexual Nigerian woman who is appealing her asylum rejection in Canada, agrees.
‘Once you are considered a gay, there’s nothing else that can change their minds. You can’t just explain it,’ she said.
When Grace revealed her sexuality to her husband, he raped her repeatedly to ‘clean away the sickness’.
Hamid, who was being blackmailed before coming to the UK, fears mob violence or even death if he is returned to Uganda.
Delays, detention and mental torture
When Orashia Edwards, originally from Jamaica, came to the UK and filed an asylum claim he was rejected.
They delayed to make the decision for five years, and said they would review the case in 2020.
While he was in a relationship with a man, the UK government did not believe him as he was previously married to a woman.
In the two-and-a-half years since his reprieve, his partner Michael died of a heart attack.
Orashia is now in a relationship with a woman. His mother Vienna fears this fact will be used against him in an upcoming court date.
Both Vienna and Orashia’s mental health has taken severe turns for the worse. Mother and son are being treated for anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
‘With all the stress and trauma we both went through, Orashia’s brain has been blown out,’ Vienna said.
‘I’m always worried something’s going to happen if he is put on a plane. I can’t settle. I’m always worried fearing I’ve lost him.’
The delay can be torturous.
If you go to the US on a visa, and then claim asylum, you can wait for three years for an appointment with immigration officers.
If you declare you wish to claim asylum on the basis of sexual orientation at the border, you are immediately detained.
‘Bisexual asylum seekers are treated differently to gay ones.’
And then when you see a judge, it is very likely they are unaware of how to deal with a bisexual person.
‘Bisexual asylum seekers are treated differently to gay ones,’ Allan Briddock, a barrister and trustee of the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group, said.
‘The Home Office has just about understood there’s such a thing as a gay identity, but just doesn’t understand there’s a bisexual identity.’
This is important.
Immigration officers seem to have a narrow view of LGBTI identities. People who frequent gay bars, subscribe to gay magazines or have gay apps tend to be believed. But they do not believe who are in stable relationships, or are not embedded in ‘gay culture’.
‘There’s a big disconnect,’ Briddock added. ‘The Home Office expects people to get off the train from whatever country and then go to Old Compton Street with a rainbow flag around their heads.’
GSN asked the Home Office to disclose exactly how many bisexual asylum seekers it has turned away. They said this was impossible to tell us because they do not track bisexuals, only LGBT people overall. When we tried to get more information using a Freedom of Information request, they refused.
‘Culture of disbelief’ in bisexual asylum cases
‘It can be really hard when you’ve been closeted your whole life and still grappling with the identity of who you are,’ Jackie Yodashkin, public affairs director for the largest US LGBTI immigrant rights group Immigration Equality, said.
‘It can be challenging to articulate that to a stranger to someone who wants to see evidence.
‘You might not have expressed those feelings or have a Grindr profile or a photo kissing a partner.
‘Some languages and cultures don’t have the concept of being bisexual.’
Because bisexual people are likely to have had a history of opposite-sex relationships, this further ‘damages’ their case.
‘There is a culture of disbelief,’ Briddock added. ‘If you don’t have evidence of same-sex sexual relationships, those cases are hard to win.’
Some bi asylum seekers are tempted to say they are gay. But in asylum court cases, your credibility is everything.
Forced to make sex tapes
There has been a long history of asylum seekers being coerced into making degrading sexually explicit videos and images in order to prove their identity.
The European Court of Justice has banned the use of sex tapes as evidence in these types of cases.
However, it is still happening. Judges have rejected pictures of two men, shirtless, in bed and embracing each other as evidence. They have done this because ‘it could be two straight men’.
So in cases when evidence is ‘against them’, defense attorneys have gone back to sexually explicit material.
‘A few weeks ago, solicitors submitted sexually explicit material with the client’s consent and redacted the explicit images,’ Briddock said.
‘You can see a sexual act is going on and you can see the client was with a man.’
He added: ‘It did the trick.’
A need for training, respect and understanding
But there is small, slow progress.
Immigration Equality in the US trains new batches of asylum officials on issues like bisexuality and HIV.
‘Judges don’t get that same training,’ Yodashkin said. ‘There was talk about getting judges this type of training, from a law professor or some other academic body.
‘That was under the Obama administration. I don’t see it coming under the Trump administration, quite frankly, because there hasn’t been much expression of interest.’
Briddock, with the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group, has called for judges to give bisexual asylum seekers ‘respect and understanding’.
‘Understanding would be good but you would expect respect to be given. It’s not,’ he said.
‘They don’t give respect to the identity of bisexuality and don’t give respect to the lives of a bisexual person. They just don’t get it.
‘Judges just think you want to have it both ways and go back and live as a straight person. They need to respect bisexuality as a concept.’
A Home Office has denied claims its practices are prejudiced.
A spokesperson said: ‘The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need it and we do not deport anyone at risk of persecution because of their sexuality.
‘All applications are required to show they face persecution, inhumane or degrading treatment in their home country to qualify for our protection.
‘We deal with any matters concerning an individual’s sexual orientation as sensitively as possible and our guidance is clear that staff are not permitted to ask inappropriate or intrusive questions, or ask for evidence of an explicit nature.’
Fighting for freedom
And while it may seem virtually impossible, it’s undoubtedly harder but still possible for a bisexual person to win asylum.
‘People who are going through this process should know we’re here for them and there are resources,’ Yodashkin said.
‘All of our clients who have gotten asylum always send a message to people still going through it, saying: “You’re going to get through this. We’re here for you and we can’t wait to see what your life is like when you get here”.
She added: ‘People are fighting for you and rooting for you and it can happen. I always want people to know there is hope.’