Elaborating on the challenges facing LGBT asylum seekers: Asylum procedures and reception conditions in Ireland

Research and practice increasingly highlight the unique hardships faced by persons applying for international protection on account of persecution based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. Only recently have abuses faced by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT, hereafter) persons come to be accepted under traditional refugee protection
frameworks informed by the Refugee Convention. This acceptance has taken shape parallel to a similar understanding within the broader international human rights field where the fundamental rights of LGBT people are becoming more firmly established. With the establishment of LGBT persons as ‘rights-holders’, persecution of people perceived as exhibiting diverse sexual and gender identities can more readily be understood as a failure of state protection (thereby triggering Refugee Convention duties), as opposed to a failure on the part of the applicant to adhere to societal norms or avoid atypical behaviour that would draw attention – the rationale behind which many LGBT applications would have been dismissed in the past.

However, such progress is painstakingly gradual and many countries are applying these newly established standards in an inconsistent or often inappropriate manner, if they have regard to the appropriate standards at all.2 Furthermore, at least in the European context, there is a widespread lack of transparency with regards to first-instance asylum decisions, as
well as little disaggregated data on asylum applications on the basis of application ground. In the absence of any clear national or regional trends, generating a picture of the extent to which those seeking international protection on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity are treated as required by the now-established standards is difficult.

In the context of these developments, this paper aims to shed some light on the challenges faced by LGBT people seeking international protection in Ireland. There is limited transparency on asylumd data in Ireland; public access to first-instance decisions is not possible and there is no disaggregated breakdown of data by application ground, and access to Direct Provision centres where asylum seekers are accommodated is limited. However, data from appellate bodies as well as anecdotal evidence suggests that a significant proportion of international protection claims are made by people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The approach taken by authorities in assessing these claims, or the extent of any provisions made to accommodate the needs of LGBT applicants is unknown. Given recent research expressing concern at a pervasive culture of ‘disbelief’ in the
Irish decision making process, as well as widespread scrutiny of the Direct Provision system, this paper aims to draw into relief the specific experiences of LGBT asylum seekers in Ireland against the State’s international refugee and human rights obligations.

Ireland has undergone significant legislative change with the introduction of the International Protection Act (2015 as amended, IPA hereafter), which came into force at the beginning of 2017, reshaping the Irish international protection procedure. This change will no doubt have significant implications for LGBT applicants and exposing any concerns at this early stage in the rollout of the new procedures is crucial for pre-empting potential protection gaps. By outlining the reality for this specific group of asylum seekers at the Irish domestic level, this paper aims to articulate recommendations for the government to ensure that Ireland’s asylum system is in line with minimum international standards.

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