British Government Tells Deported Gay Afghans To ‘Pretend To Be Straight’ To Avoid Persecution

New British guidelines for handling asylum applications suggest gay Afghans should pretend to be straight, reports The Guardian.

This treatment of potential deportees to Afghanistan, where homosexuality is illegal, has already been criticized by human rights groups as a violation of international law.

“The Home Office’s approach seems to be to tell asylum seekers, ‘Pretend you’re straight, move to Kabul and best of luck,’” said Heather Barr, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“Living a life where you are forced to lie every day about a key part of your identity, and live in constant fear of being found out and harassed, prosecuted or attacked, is exactly the kind of persecution asylum laws are supposed to prevent.”

Dated last month, the document clearly shows that the British government is aware of the risks posed to LGBT Afghans in their home country. But it nonetheless argues that since the Afghan government has not prosecuted anyone for homosexuality recently and as the Taliban are not currently threatening the capital, a closeted Afghan could live safely in Kabul.

“While space for being openly gay is limited, subject to individual factors, a practicing gay man who, on return to Kabul, would not attract or seek to cause public outrage, would not face a real risk of persecution,” the document reads. “In the absence of other risk factors, it may be a safe and viable option for a gay man to relocate to Kabul, though individual factors will have to be taken into account.”

This would seemingly put the Home Office at odds with the UN’s guidelines on refugees, which outlines that LGBT people “should not be required to change or conceal their identity to avoid persecution”.

The Home Office’s own Afghanistan unit has expressed concerns over the guidance. In a note attached to the document, it says the lack of prosecutions for homosexuality since the Taliban lost power in 2001 does not reflect increased openness, but rather simply more respect for the rule of law.

“There is very little space in Afghan society, in any location, to be an individual that openly identifies as LGBT. Social attitudes and the legal position of homosexuality means that the only option for a homosexual individual, in all but the very rarest of cases, would be to conceal their sexual orientation to avoid punishment.”

Writes The Guardian:

The Home Office declined to comment directly on the new guidelines, saying only that each claim is considered on its individual merits, and in accordance with the UK’s international obligations. “Where someone is found to be at risk of persecution or serious harm in their country of origin because of their sexuality or gender identity, refuge will be granted,” a spokesperson said.