LGBT+ people seeking asylum in the UK face mockery and derision from interpreters, damning report warns

Nick Duffy
·3-min read

LGBT+ asylum seekers are often subjected to bias and derogatory remarks from interpreters, a report has warned.

The report from the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, published on Wednesday (November 11), flagged concerns about the way people seeking asylum on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity are treated during Home Office processes.

According to the report, stakeholders had raised concerns that “interpreter bias” has a large impact on applications among LGBT+ asylum claimants.

LGBT+ asylum seekers are often subjected to bias and derogatory remarks

It warns: “One [stakeholder] argued that this was particularly prevalent in LGBTQI+ claims, with applicants reporting interpreters using derogatory slang and making judgements, which impacted the confidence of applicants.

“Another referred to reports from LGBTQI+ applicants about interpreters ‘mistranslating, rebuking or judging people, or being dismissive of their fears such as the death penalty’.

“There were concerns that applicants could feel inhibited about talking about their claim which could affect the decision.”

According to the report, the Home Office’s Asylum Operations unit had “confirmed stakeholders’ concerns, commenting that with some LGBTQI+ claims they could ‘feel the tension’ between the applicant and interpreter.”

Interpreters have used derogatory slang and made judgements about asylum applicants' sexual orientation or gender identity
Interpreters have used derogatory slang and made judgements about asylum applicants’ sexual orientation or gender identity (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty)

While some Home Office decision makers were aware that some interpreters were “fairly old guys who have their views”, the report says that they concluded they should “try and ignore it” and not “cause trouble”.

The report continues: “In some instances, applicants expressed discomfort about disclosing LGBTQI+ issues to interpreters from the same culture and some decision makers had witnessed applicants’ discomfort because the interpreter… simply summarised the applicant’s words rather that interpreting them verbatim.

“Applicants also raised this issue, saying that the bias stemmed from the interpreters’ religious beliefs.”

With interpreters often their only way of communicating with Home Office staff, LGBT+ asylum seekers who experience problems have few ways to make their concerns heard.

Interpreters should set aside their personal beliefs, campaigners say

The report recommends the Home Office should give an official within the Borders, Immigration and Citizenship System ownership of language services, and should “publish and resource a comprehensive programme of improvements to the provision and use of language services, with clear timelines and deliverables.”

The UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG) said: “We’ve seen interpreters using derogatory slang and making judgements about applicants’ sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as mistranslating and being dismissive of their fears such as the death penalty.

“We raised concerns that LGBTQI+ people can feel inhibited to talk about their claims in front of an interpreter from the same country of origin for fear of prejudice and being outed to others from the same community, with potential negative consequences for their claim.”

UKLGIG Executive Director Leila Zadeh said: “We welcome the independent chief inspector’s conclusion that Home Office interpreters must set aside their personal beliefs when conducting LGBTQI+ asylum interviews.

“Interviews are stressful enough without the added pressure of being judged by someone who should be there to help you tell your story.

“Interpreters must also receive adequate training on LGBTQI+ awareness so that they are familiar with the terms and issues people normally face.”