British asylum reprieve for gay Iranian
It’s a bizarre story. Mehdi Kazemi, a gay Iranian, is requesting asylum in the United Kingdom. London rejects his request, and Kazemi flees to the Netherlands. By Perro de Jong
In principle the Dutch authorities do not extradite Iranian homosexuals, but nonetheless they refuse to take his case into consideration, because of European rules. So Kazemi is again risking to be put onto a plane to Iran. Following protests, the British government decides to review its earlier rejection of his asylum request.
London’s decision to reopen the case must come as a relief to the Dutch Deputy Minister of Justice, Nebahat Albayrak, who was in a complicated situation. As an MP, she opposed the then Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk who wanted to extradite a number of Iranian gays in 2005. Now, herself in government, Ms Albayrak appeared forced to do the same with Mehdi Kazemi.
The reason is that the Dublin Accords allow an asylum seeker to lodge an asylum request in just one European country. Kazemi did so in the UK, where he resided as a student when early in 2006 he was told by relatives that his ex-boyfriend Parham had been hanged in Iran.
Last week, British MEP Sarah Ludford together with her Dutch colleagues was campaigning in the European Parliament on behalf of Kazemi. She says that there was nothing in the rules to stop the Netherlands from taking over the case:
"The Dublin system does not bar a member state from deciding, it just doesn't oblige it to. But we have this ability for member states to shuffle people around, and that is only necessary because the systems aren't common. They are not qualitatively harmonised."
All EU member states are supposed to protect people who are being persecuted on the grounds of race, religion or sexuality. But to a large extent they can make their own rules as to what kind of evidence of such persecution they require.
According to the Dutch rules it suffices if you demonstrate that you belong to a group that is being suppressed in your country of origin. Which groups those are is determined on the basis of a list of the Foreign Office. The British authorities, however, demand individual proof of persecution.
"I never experienced any trouble in Iran," Kazemi admitted in a letter he sent to the British authorities. But his ex-partner Parham is said to have named Kazemi, before he was executed. "If I go back now I will be arrested and condemned to death." But the British authorities concluded that there is no independent way to ascertain whether Parham was actually executed because of his homosexuality.
Officially, 'lavat' - practising homosexuality - is punishable by death in Iran. But the official guidelines on Iran of the British Home Office say there is a contradiction between theory and practice, and most gays are not punished. Lacking any concrete evidence of persecution, London decided to turn down the asylum request.
A similar problem had occurred in the Netherlands. When Immigration Minister Verdonk wanted to resume the extradition of Iranian gays in 2005, her decision was based on similar observations on the differences between theory and practice. Two gay teenagers had been hanged in the Iranian city of Mashhad shortly before. But later it transpired that the two had also been found guilty of raping a minor.
Yet in the end the Netherlands continued to grant residence permits to Iranian gays. Verdonk motivated this policy by a recent report of Human Rights Watch, which emphasised that Iran was systematically persecuting gays.
MEP Sarah Ludford says it is risky to rely on possibly outdated government guidelines:
"The actual country information about Iran that the Home Office is working on does not sufficiently stress and highlight the very severe repression and execution that is happening to gay Iranians. So I think the Home Office needs to look again."
But will the United Kingdom really adapt the guidelines to the facts on the ground, or will London just observe that there is sufficient reason to grant asylum in this specific case?
The "new circumstances" that British Interior Minister Jaqui Smith was referring to could be the recent media attention which makes it dangerous for Kazemi to return to Iran. But that would be "perverse", according to Ms Ludford:
"This is not the only gay Iranian who is at risk not only of his liberty but his life by being returned. And so it could have the perverse effect of the Home Secretary saying, 'well there's been so much publicity that there's no way he could be safe, whereas for other people, we could quietly ship them back'. So we have to carry on."
Kazemi may have been saved, although there still is a theoretical chance that he will be handed a single ticket to Tehran, but that is not a real solution -- far from it.
17 March 2008
[Copyright Radio Netherlands]