Asylum Claims and the Adjudication of Sexual Identity
In immigration systems around the world, credibility stands as the primary burden of proof and identity indicator for sexual and gender minorities fleeing persecution in their countries of origin. In determining who assesses credibility and how, however, precision has long eluded researchers, lawmakers, and adjudicators as fluidity and multiplicity in identity has come to define sexual- and gender-minority communities. The reliance on expert assessments and interviewer perceptions in legal and administrative decisions has proven problematic from both a scientific and human rights perspective. Testing often involves a combination of physiological and psychological measurement, from arousal responses to personality assessments, and interviews have been based on a range of cultural biases and unrealistic expectations.
Immigration laws across nations have variously granted or denied asylum based on behavior, identity, affiliation, or perception, and the lack of standardization has created a large degree of uncertainty for LGBT individuals fleeing unsafe conditions in their countries of origin. This Citations installment outlines the patchwork of domestic and international laws and guidelines framing the consideration of asylum claims by sexual and gender minorities in popular destination countries, region- and country-specific legal and administrative processes, and recent trends in the assessment of sexual and gender identity and asylum claims.
The U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (also known as the 1951 Refugee Convention) established guidelines determining the status of an individual as a refugee, defined as “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.” The “membership of a particular social group” item has become the cornerstone of the expansion of asylum rights to LGBT individuals fleeing persecution, and international organizations have undertaken efforts to outline frameworks for ascertaining such membership.
In a victory for LGBT asylum-seekers in Europe, the E.U. Court of Justice recently ruled against Hungarian immigration officials’ decision to deny a gay Nigerian’s asylum claim as the result of a sexuality assessment test. In its ruling, the ECJ determined that while such psychological assessments are not prohibited, the results cannot factor into asylum decisions when testing methodology contravenes any of the human rights outlined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The decision comes as the culmination of a series of rulings related to the assessment of sexual identity in asylum decisions in member states amid historic levels of trans-Mediterranean migration.
Since 1994, the U.S. has recognized sexual identity as grounds for granting asylum in the country. The political and legal recognition of LGBT asylum-seekers has co-evolved with that of LGBT citizens, with asylum decision-making processes having liberalized alongside greater scientific research into sexual orientation and expanding legal rights and protections for LGBT citizens. Today, LGBT asylum-seekers submit an application that includes documentation corroborating both individual circumstances as well as the conditions LGBT individuals face in their country of origin and are then selected to participate in an interview with the Department of Homeland Security. With no government data kept regarding the outcome of claims based on sexual orientation, however, transparency and accountability have emerged as central issues for advocates and watchdogs seeking to promote security and rigor in adjudication.
While Australia has recognized sexual orientation as part of the 1951 Convention’s designation of “membership of a particular social group,” the country has faced significant criticism for its asylum process for LGBT petitioners, which has included low approval rates and offshore detention that has further imperiled asylum-seekers. When asylum-seekers have gone before the Refugee and Migration Division of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in a final attempt to secure asylum, they have faced arbitrary, invasive, stereotypical, and culturally ignorant lines of questioning and expectations by interviewers and offered private photos and texts by asylum-seekers in desperation to “confirm” their sexual identity.
As immigration and refugee acceptance have become political hot topics in Europe, the U.S., and Australia, Canada has sought to position itself as a beacon of acceptance for individuals fleeing to the Global North to escape war or persecution. LGBT individuals petitioning for asylum enjoy higher-than-average approval rates in the country, but advocates have noted that Canada’s adjudication process has historically suffered from the same cultural biases and pitfalls in credibility assessment as other popular destination countries. Tight claim deadlines and multiple points of inquiry introduce further precarity in the process, but advocates are hopeful that a new set of guidelines issued in 2017 will improve the adjudication process.
A popular destination for LGBT Africans seeking refuge outside of their countries of origin, South Africa positioned itself as an early global leader in the establishment of LGBT legal rights and protections. Though the most progressive African nation in this respect, the country has nevertheless been criticized for the legal process through which it puts LGBT asylum-seekers, including reliance on temporary permits to defer long-term status provision and intimidation and credibility issues in the interview process.