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Persecuted gays have grounds for asylum in EU

© Photo: AFP

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2013-11-08

Laws that discriminate against homosexuals can constitute grounds for granting asylum, but only in “serious” cases of persecution, the European Union’s top court has ruled in relation to a Dutch case involving three African men.

The European Union’s highest court on Thursday said laws discriminating against gays can constitute grounds for granting asylum in relation to a case involving three Africans seeking refugee status in the Netherlands.

The three men – from Sierra Leone, Uganda and Senegal – had told Dutch authorities they feared persecution for their sexual orientation if they returned to their home countries. In view of their demand, the Netherlands’ Council of State turned to the European Court of Justice for guidance.

While the EU court said a person’s sexual orientation mattered in evaluating asylum requests, it also said that the “mere existence of legislation criminalising homosexual acts” in certain countries did not necessarily constitute “serious” persecution of homosexuals, or guarantee a favourable response for asylum seekers.

“The ruling is generally positive,” Neela Ghoshal, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) researcher in Africa, told FRANCE 24. “It makes clear that sexual orientation is an integral, fundamental part of a person’s identity and hiding your sexual identity in order to avoid persecution in your country is not an option.”

Not far enough?

However, the ruling did not go as far as some people in Africa would have liked, Ghoshal added. “The decision doesn’t say that the mere existence of [discriminatory] laws can allow anyone from those countries to have refugee status,” she noted.

According to HRW’s Ghoshal, the decision will make life better for a small number of LGBT Africans who have faced difficult circumstances and fled to Europe, but it will not have a huge impact on the continent.

“Most LGBT people in Africa are not seeking to leave their countries,” she said. “This decision doesn’t mean that everyone is going to be jumping on the next plane and trying to get to Europe, because the real battle is at home."

Like in many countries across Africa, homosexual acts are a criminal offence in Sierra Leone, Uganda and Senegal, and may lead to serious punishment, including life imprisonment and heavy fines.

“A large number of very strong local activist groups are trying to improve life on the ground. For many people, fleeing to Europe is not their first choice,” said Ghoshal.

Date created : 2013-11-08

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