Afghan asylum seeker not gay enough for Austrian authorities

Man’s application rejected as authorities say he did not walk, dress or act like he was gay

 Refugees, mostly from Syria and Afghanistan, at the Westbahnhof train station in Vienna in September 2015. Photograph:   Christoph Schlessmann/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Refugees, mostly from Syria and Afghanistan, at the Westbahnhof train station in Vienna in September 2015. Photograph: Christoph Schlessmann/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

 

An Afghan man seeking asylum in Austria because he is homosexual has had his application rejected because he didn’t appear sufficiently gay for the migration authorities.

The 18-year-old man sought refugee status in 2016 because he said he faced persecution in Afghanistan. The application was refused because, in the words of the official, “neither your walk, your affectations nor your clothes give even the slightest indication that you could be homosexual”.

The asylum case-worker noted that the man, who was living in a hostel with other underage migrants, had been involved in fights, indicating “a potential for aggression . . . that would not be expected from a homosexual”.

Other reports from the hostel suggested the young man preferred small groups or his own company, prompting the official to ask: “Are homosexuals not more the sociable type?” A gay loner, the report adds, is not behaviour that “fits with an alleged homosexual”.

The official goes on to dismiss as “completely unthinkable” his claims that non-homosexual youths could have kissed him. “If you had really done that with a non-homosexual youth, then you would have received a terrible beating.”

Finally, the official dismissed a claim the Afghan asylum applicant felt drawn to his own sex from the age of 12.

“In an under-sexualised society like Afghanistan, in which there are no public sexual allurements through fashion and advertising, it is not very likely to have been ‘sexualised’ so young.”

The final ruling of the official: “You are not homosexual and, on your return to Afghanistan, have nothing to fear.”

Taboo

Homosexuality in Afghanistan is largely taboo and often linked with prostitution and paedophilia. After their takeover, the Taliban criminalised all non-heterosexual relationships outside marriage and executed in public men and women accused of adultery and same-sex acts.

After the American invasion in 2001, a handbook for US marines noted that “homosexual behaviour is relatively common, but taboo, in rural Afghanistan, because there are no other outlets for normal sexual energies”.

European and Austrian courts have ruled that homosexuality can be a legitimate reason for asylum if returning a gay man or lesbian to their homeland meant they faced likely persecution.

Even Austria’s migration authority admits in its 118-page report that bisexuals, homosexuals and transsexuals in Afghanistan face “brutal rejection” by mainstream society.

NGOs, the report continues, report of gay men being detained, robbed, raped and even killed. But the migration authority ends its report by telling the young man: “you are not homosexual, you just want to trick the authority.”

Determining homosexuality as grounds for asylum has proven one of the trickiest issues for authorities in Germany and Austria on the front lines of the 2015-2016 migrant surge. But a leading Austrian gay group said on Wednesday that the report, leaked to Vienna’s Falter magazine, was “so filled with prejudice, stereotype and cliche” that it disqualified itself.

The 18-year-old Afghan man has appealed the decision. The asylum authority is standing firm, saying that “viewed objectively, one cannot assume that the person in question is, in fact, homosexual”.