A Nigerian gay rights activist who was told by a judge that she was faking her sexuality has won a 13-year battle to be granted asylum in the UK.
Aderonke Apata feared being killed or imprisoned if she returned home, but her application for asylum was rejected for a second time in 2015 after the judge said he did not believe she was a lesbian.
Her cause gained widespread support when it was revealed that, in an act of desperation, she sent a private video to the judge as evidence of her sexuality.
As a result, multiple petitions in support of Ms Apata’s asylum bid were created, gaining hundreds of thousands of signatures between them.
The “Asylum for Aderonke” Facebook page, run by supporters, has now been updated to say her application had been successful and “she has been granted refugee status”. It thanked those who helped her cause, including her legal team, her family, and, among others, well known equality campaigner Peter Tatchell.
Since coming to the UK, Ms Apata has been a prominent gay rights activist, receiving a nomination for an LGBT Role Model Award as well as an Attitude Pride Award for her activism.
She also became a vocal critic of Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre after spending over a year there.
Speaking in 2014, the activist told Novara Media the facility is “a concentration camp” due to the fact people are detained there for an indefinite amount of time. Asylum seekers “should not be treated as criminals,” she said.
Speaking to The Independent, Ms Apata said one of her darkest times was the week she spent in solitary confinement at Yarl’s Wood as punishment for leading a peaceful demonstration at the centre.
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After being granted asylum, Ms Apata said she was “overwhelmed with gladness,” but remains angry “knowing that there are other LGBTI people seeking asylum facing the same fear of deportation that I had just overcome.”
“I was just crying on the phone with my solicitor when he broke the news to me,” she said. “I must have embarrassed him. I wasn’t assimilating all of the information he was giving to me on the phone as I was crying and singing.”
Home Office figures obtained by gay magazine Attitude suggest that, between 1 January and 18 November last year, at least 76 LBGT+ asylum seekers were detained in immigration centres.
Highlighting the number of LGBT people still facing persecution, Ms Apata pledged to continue her work as an activist through the “African Rainbow Family” community group that she founded.
The group itself stated it will continue its “commitment in advancing a humane and fair process for people who flee persecution to the UK due to their sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Speaking after receiving her asylum verdict, Ms Apata openly criticised the Home Office for its treatment of her, saying it was “dehumanising and demeaning”.
“Despite the gains in acceptance of LGBTI people in the UK, LGBTI people seeking asylum in the UK’s situation remains precarious and appears not to fit into the wider LGBTI community,” she said.
“The Home Office needs to catch up with the rest of the UK, drop its vile ‘proof of sexuality’ policy and move on from 1967. All LGBTI people seeking asylum in the UK want – like anyone else – is to be treated with fairness, dignity and humanity.
“Having been forced to flee by hate and intolerance at home, being branded a liar by the Home Office is demeaning and cruel for LGBTI people seeking asylum. I hope the Home Office will look back, reflect on my case and treat everyone with the decency and respect they deserve.”
Leading equality campaigner Peter Tatchell welcomed the verdict, saying: “I am delighted that Aderonke has finally won refugee status but outraged that the Home Office took so long and fought so hard to stop her.
“They locked her up without justification, drove her to severe depression and tried ceaselessly to deport her. The asylum system is homophobic and unjust. It needs radical reform.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We do not routinely comment on individual cases.”
The Government is looking into how to improve the asylum process for people claiming asylum on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity, they added, saying an individual would never be asked to provide video evidence of their sexuality.