'I feel safe now': how legal aid saved a gay man from deportation

Jamie Grierson Home affairs editor
Naveed arrived in Britain with no prior knowledge of the asylum system and struggled to find information. Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA

When Naveed met his boyfriend in an empty car park in Saudi Arabia, he thought they were hidden from the omnipresent gaze of the religious police, the mutaween.

But he was wrong. The couple were spotted, separated and thrown into a cell, in a country where homosexuality is punishable by death.

He was deported to his country of origin, Pakistan, where laws against homosexuality are similarly strict. His family disowned him after discovering his sexuality, and when he started receiving threats to his life he fled to the UK.

He arrived in Britain with no prior knowledge of the asylum system and struggled to find information about the process. Refugee Action helped him secure support to which he was entitled as an asylum seeker – accommodation and £5.90 a day. He was sent to Liverpool, a city of which he knew nothing.

When he received a letter inviting him for his asylum interview in just 10 days’ time, he felt panicked because he did not have a solicitor. He visited four solicitors before finally finding someone who could represent him, at the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU).

“I was very disappointed. I was struggling. No one was taking my case. By the time I found my solicitor, I didn’t have much time left to understand everything and to prepare for the interview,” Naveed says.

His case was initially rejected because, although the Home Office recognised that gay men faced persecution in Pakistan, they did not accept he was gay.

“When I was asked about my relationship and my boyfriend I was unable to say what happened to him. But how was I able to contact him? We were separated. We had our phones taken from us. I believe he was also deported. But I don’t know what happened to him.

“I’m from a Muslim background. I wasn’t a very forward person when it came to talking about my sexuality.”

Before his appeal hearing, his solicitor had more time to gather evidence and give Naveed the confidence he needed to speak out.

“My solicitor encouraged me to speak up. She helped me a lot,” says Naveed, who was granted refugee status on appeal. “My solicitor gave me courage. She said not to worry at all. I had to speak in front of the judge.”

Naveed says he does not like to think about what would have happened if he had been forced to return to Pakistan.

“I feel so much more secure now. I am living in a country now where I can just be myself and live openly. There is a law that allows me to live freely. I am relaxed now. I feel safe now.”

  • Naveed requested his name be changed for this piece to protect his identity.