Aderonke Apata deportation case: 'If the Home Office doesn’t believe I’m gay, I’ll send them a video that proves it'
A Nigerian asylum-seeker tells Emily Dugan she is far from alone in her struggle with the Home Office
Emily Dugan is social affairs correspondent for The Independent, i and Independent on Sunday. She was previously a news reporter for The Independent on Sunday. Her investigations into human trafficking have twice been awarded Best Investigative Article at the Anti-Slavery Day Media Awards and her human rights journalism was shortlisted for the Gaby Rado Memorial prize at the 2012 Amnesty Media Awards.
Sunday 08 June 2014
Aderonke Apata felt she had tried everything to persuade the Home Office she was gay. She’d sent letters from former girlfriends – both in Britain and Nigeria – and supporting statements from friends.
But once her claim that she could be killed because of her sexuality if sent back to Nigeria was rejected, she felt there was only one way of providing a judge with irrefutable evidence that she was gay: by sending a very personal home video.
On Monday Ms Apata will hand in a petition to Theresa May, the Home Secretary, demanding that the deportation of all LGBT asylum-seekers is halted until a review of their treatment is concluded.
Sitting with her girlfriend, Happiness Agboro, in a bar on Manchester’s Canal Street, Ms Apata, 47, reveals the traumatic ordeal she has experienced: “I was asked to bring my supporting documents for my judicial review for the court to look at. What evidence do we have to compile apart from letters from people? I knew we had a home video of ourselves, so I thought why not just put it in? I cannot afford to go back to my county where I will be tortured, so if I have to prove it with a sexual video, then I have to do it.”
Her experience is echoed by many LGBT asylum-seekers in Britain who are having to go to extreme lengths to persuade sceptical immigration officers of their sexuality. She still feels distraught at having shared such an intimate record of her personal life.
“I feel so bad it’s got to this stage. It’s such a desperate and precarious situation to be in, very dangerous, because anything could happen to those pictures, those videos.”
The Home Secretary ordered a review of how border officials handle gay asylum claims in March after leaked documents revealed that inappropriate interrogation techniques were being used to make people “prove” they were homosexual.
Ms Apata will present her petition at a meeting with the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, attended by asylum-seekers and activists in Manchester.
When she came to Britain from Nigeria in 2004, her asylum claim was on religious grounds. She came from a Christian family, but had married a Muslim man in what she says was a sham arrangement to cover up her long-term relationship with another woman.
According to Ms Apata, her husband’s family turned against her as they suspected she was gay. They took her to a sharia court, where she was sentenced to death for adultery. She says her brother and three-year-old son were killed in related vigilante incidents.
Ms Apata ran away and went into hiding after two appeals for asylum were rejected, living on the streets in Manchester to make sure she would not be deported.
In 2012, after being caught working as a care manager with a false visa, she tried again to apply for asylum – saying she feared returning to Nigeria and being persecuted for her sexuality.
This latest asylum claim was also rejected, despite the fact that Ms Apata gave testimony that her ex-girlfriend in Nigeria was killed in a vigilante attack in 2012 and the country’s law now punishes homosexuality with up to 14 years’ imprisonment.
Ms Apata’s story has rapidly garnered mass support, with one petition demanding Theresa May halt her deportation already attracting more than 230,000 signatures.
A judicial review has now been granted in her case and she is hopeful she will finally have the right to live freely in Britain with her girlfriend.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We do not remove anyone at risk of persecution because of their sexuality. We provide dedicated guidance and training to those dealing with such asylum claims, and all applications are carefully considered in line with our international obligations.”
For Ms Apata, the threat of deportation has proved too much and she has recently been hospitalised with complex post-traumatic stress disorder. “I want sanctuary,” she says. “I just want to be protected. I want to be who I am.”
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