Because of Uganda’s well-known punitive approach to homosexuality among men and women a specialist UK court has ordered that a woman, deported from the UK to Uganda, should be returned so that she could continue her efforts to be given asylum. The woman, known only as “PN” had claimed she should not be sent back to Uganda as she was a lesbian and would be subject to discrimination, prosecution and worse, on account of her sexuality.
PN was born in Uganda in 1993, and come to the UK when she was about 17, as an accompanying child on a visitor’s visa. That visa expired in February 2011, but she stayed in the UK without permission to do so.
Officers went to find her in 2013, forced open her bedroom door and found a “male person” in the bedroom. She was arrested as someone who had remained in the country after her permission to remain had expired.
Initially it seemed she had few health issues and because she apparently had no family or close friends in the UK, the decision was made to keep her in detention rather than letting her stay on at large until her case was heard.
Late in July 2013, during her stay at Yarls Wood Immigration Removal Centre, she claimed asylum and during a hearing on the issue said she had come to the UK when she was 17 “because she was a lesbian and had to leave Uganda and feared that her uncle would kill her if she returned to Uganda”.
She said she was in a relationship with a British citizen called Mildred, and that they had been together for seven months while PN was in the UK.
From this time, her medical condition appeared to worsen but the authorities rejected her claim for asylum, questioned whether she was really a lesbian, and continued preparation for her return to Uganda.
As she was still thought likely to abscond if she was released from detention, she was kept locked up.
During her asylum application interview, she was asked 263 questions. She said she first realized she was a lesbian when she was about 13 and had her first homosexual relationship when she was 14 and the other woman about 20. She listed the other relationships she had after this, and spoke of the “difficulties that she had in Uganda after people became aware of her sexuality”. One consequence was that her grandmother was beaten up when PN was about 15, as a direct result of PN’s sexual orientation.
Her last partner in Uganda, who married a man to conceal her sexual identity, helped PN get a passport to go to the UK.
When she was about seven years old, she went to live with her uncle who soon started sexually abusing her and had raped her.
From the time of her asylum interview, legal steps continued on both sides: the authorities for their part did not believe that PN was a lesbian and took steps to have her returned to Uganda. PN on the other hand, tried to locate someone in Uganda with whom she had previously been in a relationship before she left for the UK, who could testify as to the nature of their relationship.
The information she had given about her uncle’s abuse and rape of her also set new investigations in train, as the authorities needed to establish whether she could be classified as a victim of torture.
As her lawyers continued exploring ways of challenging the successive decisions that she should be returned to Uganda, her mental health declined. The judge who later, after PN had been returned to Uganda, had to consider whether she should be brought back to the UK, noted that (before her return to Uganda) she had been found in the detention centre, screaming and banging her head on a bedroom wall; that she refused meals, often over long periods of time, and another report suggested that her symptoms indicated she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder “or psychosis” for which she needed treatment before she could fly.
Another doctor’s report said she met the criteria for panic disorder, PTSD with secondary psychosis and major depressive disorder. Further, her account of her sexual development was said to be “consistent with homosexual orientation”.
On 12 December 2013 she lost her last attempt to stay and was removed to Uganda where she still remains.
Since then, lawyers acting for her have filed a claim for judicial review, challenging the legality of holding her in detention for various periods, and also asked that she be brought back to the UK to proceed with her application for asylum based on being a lesbian.
Judge Lewis, who heard the application brought on her behalf last month, has now delivered his decision. He heard that she claimed asylum on the basis that because she is a lesbian she will “suffer a real risk of persecution in Uganda.” The Secretary of State for the Home Department had rejected her claim on the grounds that she was not actually a lesbian, “but accepted that if she were and wished to live openly as a lesbian in Uganda she would suffer a real risk of persecution”.
In his lengthy judgment, reviewing each stage of the action against PN since her initial arrest, Judge Lewis found that some of the periods she had been in detention (rather than released pending hearings on whether she would be returned to Uganda) had been lawful while other periods of detention were unlawful.
The judge found that the decision to dismiss her appeal against refusal of her asylum claim was reached by a process that that procedurally unfair, as it did not give her enough chance to obtain evidence from Uganda to support her claim. Judge Lewis therefore quashed that decision and ordered the Secretary of State “to use his best endeavours to facilitate the return of (PN) to the UK to enable her to continue with her appeal.” Finally, the judge added that he would hear submissions on how to calculate the damages to which she was entitled because some of the period she was in immigration detention she had been, in the decision of the court, unlawfully detained.