The Home Office has granted refugee status to a prominent Nigerian LGBT activist, ending a 13-year battle over her right to remain in the UK.
Aderonke Apata, 50, says she knew she was gay from the age of 16 and was persecuted in Nigeria. She has been recognised internationally for her human rights work, and recently received Attitude magazine’s Pride award.
Apata arrived in the UK in 2004 but did not immediately claim asylum on the grounds of her sexuality. Until 2010, lesbian, gay and bisexual asylum seekers were often forcibly removed to their home countries if it was deemed safe for them to “live discreetly”.
In 2012 she filed an asylum claim but was considered by the Home Office to be lying about being in a lesbian relationship. Apata appealed, but was told by the judge: “What is believed is that you have presented yourself as a lesbian solely to establish a claim for international protection in an attempt to thwart your removal … It is considered that your actions are not genuine and simply a cynical way of gaining status in the UK.”
A new appeal was scheduled for late July. Apata’s legal team gave notice that 11 prominent witnesses, including the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and the Lib Dem peer Liz Barker, would be attending. The Home Office requested an adjournment and then earlier this month sent a letter to Apata saying officials had decided to grant her refugee status.
“I was just crying on the phone with my solicitor when he broke the news to me,” said Apata. “I was singing Great is Thy Faithfulness O God My Father … in my heart at the same time.”
She said there had been many dark hours during her battle with the Home Office, such as being kept in solitary confinement for a week in Yarl’s Wood detention centre in October 2012.
“I felt dehumanised and demeaned when the Home Office kept saying I was pretending to be a lesbian in order to get asylum. That was such a ridiculous assertion to make about me,” she said.
Sean Mcloughlin, of TRP Solicitors, Apata’s solicitor, welcomed the decision to grant her refugee status. “However, [the Home Office’s] decision to concede, having previously repeatedly refused her application for asylum, comes only after protracted litigation and countless hours of campaigning and legal work. The unfortunate truth is that the Home Office have still yet a long way to come in the way they assess LGBTQ+ cases.”Apata’s barrister, S Chelvan of No5 Chambers, said: “Aderonke’s case highlights the Home Office’s approach to sexual identity asylum claims is still not fit for purpose. In asylum claims, the negative history is in part a product of a system in the UK that still dehumanises LGBTQ+ applicants by continuing to detain, isolate, stigmatise and harm some of the most vulnerable groups in our society. We must demand change, starting at the highest level.”Apata said: “There are many people like me … who are facing huge insurmountable difficulties navigating the asylum system in the UK. I will continue to do my bit in amplifying the voices of people who can only shout so far.”