Written by Isabelle Cooper
A recently published COI Report on Zimbabwe details the lived realities, discrimination and fear experienced by the LGBTQ+ community. These reports provide important evidence for asylum claims.
What is a Country of Origin Information (COI) Report?
COI provides information on the countries asylum seekers originate from, and contributes to the asylum decision-making process[i]. They can provide evidence of a general risk of persecution, or alternatively, can demonstrate the country has a safe climate.
Increasingly, COI reports concern the experience of the LGBTQ+ community as the EU has called on asylum authorities to ensure that ‘the legal and social situation of LGBTI persons in countries of origin is documented systematically and that such information is made available to asylum decision-makers as part of COI’ [ii].
In practice, this can prove to be a challenging task as data tends to be scarce, incomplete and general in nature[iii]. The LGBTQ+ situation may be poorly documented due to stigma and lack of monitoring. LGBTQ+ persons are often deterred from reporting abuse to authorities, as these authorities are complicit in their abuse. Therefore, it is difficult to attain accurate statistics on discrimination and violence against the LGBTQ+ community. Furthermore, it may focus exclusively upon the experiences of gay men[iv], and remain especially silent on the experiences of the trans community.
What are the current experiences of LGBTQ+ people in Zimbabwe?
Despite the Zimbabwean constitution guaranteeing equality and non-discrimination, it criminalises male same-sex relations (Article 73 of the Criminal Law Act, 2006). Additionally, it remains silent on the specific rights of the remaining members of the LGBTQ+ community. There is a general hostile environment for the Zimbabwean LGBTQ+ community. This is further fuelled by prevalent homophobic political and religious rhetoric. More generally, the current human rights landscape is under increasing scrutiny owing to state suppression of protests against corruption and human rights violations perpetrated in the name of COVID-19 response restrictions[v].
This social climate of intimidation, stigma and discrimination has led many LGBTQ+ people to conceal their sexualities and gender identity. This has severe negative effects on the mental health of the LGBTQ+ community, often resulting in depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicidal ideation[vi]. If someone’s sexuality and/or gender identity is revealed it has reportedly led to job loss, evictions, expulsion from education and at times, violence (corrective rape is ‘rare’[vii]).
Despite few enforcements of the Criminality Act 2006, the police and other authorities are known to harass, intimidate, extort, arbitrarily detain and ill-treat the LGBTQ+ community. Furthermore, the omission of trans people in law often means transgender women are likely to be persecuted as if there were men. LGBTQ+ activists often face a heightened risk of violence, arbitrary arrests and harassment by state agents. Under the previous Zimbabwean administration, raids of LGBTQ+ gatherings and visibility initiatives were prevalent[viii].
It is important to note that LGBTQ+ people experience persecution and discrimination differently and can be compounded by intersectionality (class/race)[ix], thus it is specific to a particular person’s circumstance.
Does this constitute grounds for asylum?
Someone’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity can be highly relevant to their claim for asylum. Specifically, if they ‘fear persecutory harm of their actual or perceived sexual orientation and/or gender identity, which does not, or is seen to, conform to prevailing political, cultural or social norms’. It can provide grounds to label someone as a ‘particular social group’ (PSG) based on the common characteristic of sexual orientation. However, simply establishing someone as part of a PSG is not sufficient for them to be recognised as a refugee. The remaining question is whether this particular person faces a risk of persecution on account of their membership of said group.
The UK published COI report concerning Zimbabwean LGBQT+ persons concludes[x]:
- They are reasonably likely to face a real risk of persecution or serious harm
- It is likely a person is able to obtain protection from the state (or quasi state bodies)
- A person is reasonably able to relocate within a country or territory
- Claims are likely to justify granting asylum, humanitarian protection or other form of leave,
The report concludes: ‘In general, state treatment of LGBTI persons, even when taken cumulatively, is not sufficiently serious by its nature and repetition as to amount to persecution or serious harm.[xi]’
Thus, it is not guaranteed that a Zimbabwean LGBTQ+ person will be granted asylum in the UK. Even though the person is ‘likely to face a real risk of persecution/serious harm’ if they were to return to Zimbabwe, the Home Office has deemed it possible for them to flee this persecution by internally relocating or by seeking protection from (quasi-) state agents. The Home Office has not listed Zimbabwe on its list of safe countries of origin[xii] which increases the chance of a successful asylum claim.
In practice, what happens to the asylum claims of LGBTQ+ Zimbabwean persons in the UK?
The case LZ (homosexuals) Zimbabwe CG  UKUT 00487 (IAC)[xiii] concerns a gay Zimbabwean woman who claim for asylum was rejected. This case provides an example of the lived realities of LGBTQ+ Zimbabwe asylum seekers.
Specifically, LZ had entered the UK lawfully in the late 90s but overstayed her visa. She proceeded to seek asylum in 2009 based on the risk of her persecution as a lesbian in Zimbabwe. However, since it was possible for her to internally relocated to a queer friendly city (Harare), her claim was refused. The courts argued that in Zimbabwe she may face societal disapproval, but this does not amount to persecution.
It is interesting to note that ‘the existence of a law penalising consensual homosexual acts does not itself constitute persecution, however, if such a law is routinely enforced and penalised imposed, that is persecutory’[xiv]. In Zimbabwe, this is not the case.
Throughout the years, Link Law has supported many Zimbabweans in regularising their immigration status in the UK. If you would like support and looking for immigration advice, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
[i] Country of Original Information (COI) Reports, 2012, EASO, viewed 03/03/2021, available at https://www.easo.europa.eu/news-events/country-origin-information-coi-reports#:~:text=COI%20refers%20to%20information%20on,as%20such%20can%20enhance%20harmonisation.
[ii] European Parliament resolution of 4 February 2014 on the EU roadmap against homophobia and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity
[iii] EASO (European Asylum Support Office). ‘Researching the situation of lesbian, gay and bisexual persons (LGB) in countries of origin’. 2015, viewed 03/03/2021, available at https://coi.easo.europa.eu/administration/easo/PLib/EASO_LGB_COI_Guide_Apr_2015_EN.pdf
[vii] Gov.uk, Country Police and Information note. Zimbabwe – Sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, 2019, gov.uk. viewed 03/03/2021, available at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/775001/CPIN-_ZIM_-_SOGIE._V4.0e__Jan_2019_.pdf
[x] Gov.uk, Country Police and Information note: Zimbabwe – Sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. 2019, gov.uk, viewed 03/03/2021, available at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/775001/CPIN-_ZIM_-_SOGIE._V4.0e__Jan_2019_.pdf
[xii] Gov.uk, National, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 Section 94, 2002, gov.uk, viewed 03/03/2021, available at https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2002/41/section/94
[xiii] Gov.uk, UKUT 487 (IAC), 2011, viewed 03/03/2021, available at https://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKUT/IAC/2011/00487_ukut_iac_2011_lz_zimbabwe_cg.html
March 11,2021 at 3:47 pm