Ken Macharia, a gay rugby player from Somerset, was granted a last minute reprieve from deportation by the Home Office after his latest claim for asylum was rejected on Monday last week.
However the threat of his deportation to his native Kenya where gay sex is illegal remains imminent, as the Home Office have not reversed their decision to deny Machuria asylum. If sent home, Macharia could face persecution, violence and up to 21 years in prison as a result of his sexual orientation.
The Home Office’s decision to reject Macharia’s claim came days after the high court in Kenya upheld laws criminalising gay sex. In a letter to Machuria’s solicitor, the Home Office acknowledged that LGBT people in Kenya have been subjected to harassment, blackmail and rape. However, the letter concluded that the penalisation of homosexuality was ‘rarely applied and the objective evidence does not establish that LGBT persons are likely to be subjected to persecution or serious harm’.
The 39-year-old has lived in the UK for the past nine years, originally on a student visa and then as a highly skilled migrant working as a mechanical design engineer. His initial claim for asylum was rejected in October 2016, as was an appeal against the decision in December that year.
‘Same-sex intimacy in Kenya is illegal,’ Macharia commented after the Home Office’s latest decision. ‘Police harass and blackmail gay people. There is a risk of mob violence. There is discrimination with people being fired from work and evicted by landlords. I don’t understand the Home Office’s stance.’
By the time Macharia arrived at a police station in Somerset, expecting to be detained and deported, over 150,000 people had signed a petition calling for him to be permitted to stay in the UK.
The degree of attention the campaign has received is likely to render Macharia’s return to Kenya more dangerous: ‘Living in a closeted life is no longer an option for me. I don’t know what I could do.’
The case comes amidst claims of the Home Office’s hypocrisy in adopting the Pride flag on social media, and it follows criticism that the Home Office is failing to adequately recognise the threats posed to gay asylum seekers.
Last year the Independent reported that the rate of rejected asylum claims from members of the LGBT+ community had increased by 52% over three years, with 78% of asylum claims based wholly or partially on sexual orientation refused.
In February this year the decision was made to deport a disabled 67-year old Yew Fook Sam to Malaysia, where any homosexual acts are punishable under federal and sharia law. His claim was rejected because the Home Office refused to believe he was gay, on the basis that he was single and lacked sexual partners in the UK.
Two months later, campaigners successfully delayed the deportation of Gloria Namuzungu, a 22-year-old who faces possible life imprisonment, persecution and violence in Uganda as a result of her sexual orientation. Namuzungu’s local councillor who supported the campaign commented: ‘Her asylum claim is a literal matter of life or death.’
A report published in July last year by the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG) concluded that gay and transgender asylum seekers in the UK are routinely being denied asylum status because the Home Office is demanding excessive proof of their gender identities, despite these being kept secret for years and often decades, and rejecting claims because of flawed assumptions about ‘sexual discovery’ narratives.
The report highlights how a woman in her early fifties was questioned in-depth about ‘feelings’ experienced as a teenager. One applicant was repeatedly asked to explain his emotions when first having a sexual experience at age 13. At the same time, asylum seekers’ accounts of same-sex relations back in their home nations, from sending love letters to kissing in public, are frequently dismissed as implausible by the Home Office.
Leila Zadeh, executive director of UKLGIG, commented, that the decline in LGBT+ people receiving asylum was ‘extremely worrying’. ‘The Home Office is setting the bar too high or LGBTQI+ people to claim asylum. LGBTQI+ people are being faced with a range of barriers: refusal if they don’t claim asylum straight away, dismissal of supporting evidence, and humiliating questioning.’
In response to the Macharia decision, a Home Office spokesman said: ‘This government has a proud record of providing protection for asylum seekers fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.’