Woman who said she had death threats due to sexuality, loses refugee status appeal

Protection officer rejected claims of being married as a child and entering into lesbian relationships in Zimbabwe

A woman who alleged she was subject to death threats from her family in her native Zimbabwe as a result of entering into a lesbian relationship has lost her appeal over a recommendation she should be refused refugee status.

An International Protection Officer (IPO) had in April 2019 recommended the woman be refused refugee status or subsidiary protection on grounds her claims lacked credibility.

The IPO rejected her claims of being twice married as a child at the ages of nine and 13; of entering into lesbian relationships in Zimbabwe and of being forced to flee there as a result of threats from family members after she was discovered engaging in lesbian acts.

On foot of the findings, the Minister for Justice in May 2019 refused her leave to remain.


The woman then brought judicial review proceedings aimed at overturning the IPO recommendation but, in a judgment on Friday, Ms Justice Tara Burns refused to do so.

The judge rejected arguments that the IPO had failed to determine a “core element” of the woman’s claim, namely that she was a lesbian, and that she was entitled to a decision by the IPO on that.

The woman argued her assertion of being a lesbian was a significant assertion in its own right and was separate to her claims, which the IPO had rejected, of being involved in a lesbian relationship which was discovered arising from which she was threatened and had to flee Zimbabwe.

While the IPO decision did not include a determination of the woman’s personal sexuality in its acceptance of her personal circumstances, limiting those to her age, ethnicity and nationality, the issue of her sexuality was explored by the IPO when dealing with her assertion she entered into lesbian relationships in Zimbabwe, the judge said.

The IPO had set out several relevant questions and noted the woman was unaware of any gay and lesbian support groups and had not engaged with any either in Ireland or Zimbabwe, the judge said. From an overall perspective, it was clear the IPO had determined this issue against the woman and she had thus had a first instance decision on the issue, the judge held.

That matter can be reconsidered at the woman’s appeal before the International Protection Appeals Tribunal, the judge added.

She rejected all other grounds of challenge, including that the IPO could not make an addendum to his report. She also found the International Protection Act 2015 does not require a designated IPO to be appointed to a protection application before the applicant is interviewed under section 35 of the Act.

Any IPO or authorised panel member can make any decision they are required to make without reference to the IPO who makes the final recommendation on an application, she said.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times