Aderonke Apata: "I felt dehumanised when the Home Office said I was pretending to be a lesbian"
DIVA speaks to the Nigerian LGBT rights activist who just won her UK asylum claim after a 13-year battle.
13 years ago Aderonke Apata fled from Nigeria to the UK because, as a lesbian in a country that still has the death penalty for homosexuality, she feared for her life. Since then she has faced multiple rejections of her asylum applications. She was even accused of lying about her sexuality, which led Aderonke to provide an intimate video in a desperate attempt to prove her sexual orientation before a High Court Judge who still did not believe her.
Then this July, she was due back in court for yet another appeal. Lib Dem peer Baroness Elizabeth Barker was one of the witnesses who spoke up for Aderonke in court. She told us:
"I read Aderonke’s story in DIVA and was moved by her resolve in the face of adversity. That it took the Home Office 13 years to accept the veracity of her sexuality is unjustifiable. Detention of LGBT asylum seekers is cruel and unnecessary."
Thankfully, this time her appeal was adjourned by the home office and subsequently granted refugee status and the right to stay in this country.
Her solicitor, Sean McLoughlin of TRP Solicitor says:
"Without the extensive support Aderonke received from the LGBTQ+ community it is very likely that she would have been deported from the UK in breach of the UK's international law obligations. Aderonke can now, after many years of battling her case, begin to rebuild her life.”
S. Chelvan, Aderonke's Barrister of No5 Chambers adds:
“Aderonke’s case highlights the Home Office’s approach to sexual identity asylum claims is still not fit for purpose. In asylum claims, the negative history is in part a product of a system in the UK that still dehumanises LGBT+ applicants by continuing to detain, isolate, stigmatise and harm some of the most vulnerable groups in our society. We must demand change, starting at the highest level.”
We spoke to Aderonke herself to find out more.
DIVA: Congratulations on being granted refugee status. You've had an incredibly difficult journey.
ADERONKE APATA: The journey has been a long and difficult one through Home Office bureaucracy with dark times. During this difficult, horrendous and bureaucratic journey, I was fearful daily, knowing that I could be deported back to Nigeria any time to death.
Every day was dark. The darkest times for me were my detention at the notorious concentration camp called Yarl's Wood detention centre for over a year. I was detained in solitary confinement within the detention camp in 2012 October for a week following a peaceful demonstration that I led within the detention centre demanding for all detainees' freedom. I was subsequently sent to prison for about five months without a charge.
After I was released from prison back into the community, I was always terrified to sleep. I literally was fixated to the door of my bedroom, expecting that the door would be broken down suddenly in the early hours of the morning by the Home Office Enforcement Officers in order to arrest and take me to the detention centre for forcible deportation.
The fear of being detained at the local Manchester immigration reporting centre, where I used to sign once every week, led to me having someone go with me each time for emotional support and also to quickly alert my solicitor if I was detained.
I remember making up my mind and awaiting death upon arriving Nigeria on 24 January 2013 as I was driven to Stanstead Airport to be deported on a charter flight. The flight was cancelled at the last minute by a High Court injunction filed on my behalf by the Medical Justice.
I felt dehumanised and demeaned when the Home Office kept saying I was pretending to be a lesbian in order to get asylum. That was such a ridiculous assertion to make about me! The onus was then placed on me to prove, which led to production of pornography.
How does it feel to have finally been granted permission to stay in the UK?
I am overwhelmed with mixed feelings. Glad that I am safe and angry. I'm angry knowing that there are other LGBTI people seeking asylum facing the same fear of deportation that I had just overcome.
I am thankful to my family, friends and everybody here in the UK and all over the world who showed their support for me throughout this traumatic ordeal. The awesome people here in the UK who show me love, even including standing up being witnesses for me in my court hearing, and my brilliant legal team ( S. Chelvan of No5 Chambers and Sean McLoughlin of TRP Solicitors) who did a tremendous work in sealing this victory off. My appreciation also goes to my Medical Team.
What do you hope this will mean for other LGBTI asylum seekers?
This victory means hope and strength to other LGBTI people seeking asylum. With perseverance, steadfastness and love, they can overcome the rejections that they are facing in their asylum cases.
You recently received Attitude’s Pride Award in recognition of the brilliant human rights work you do.
I'm humbled to have won the Attitude Pride Award. There are many people like me, who are continually persecuted for being different for whom they love, that are facing huge insurmountable difficulties navigating the ever complex LGBTI asylum system in the UK. Some are living in the 36 Commonwealth countries that criminalise LGBT+ people and even face the death penalty as the case is particularly in my home country, Nigeria.
This is why I founded African Rainbow Family to support LGBTI people seeking asylum in the UK, influence decision making in the LGBTI asylum application processes, campaign for global LGBTI equality and amplify the voices of people who can only shout so far. The vital work and commitment of African Rainbow Family in advancing a humane and fair process for people who flee persecution to the UK due to their sexual orientation and gender identity will continue whilst working with other amazing human rights advocates in the hope that one day we will together achieve the much-needed equality for our LGBTI community, both nationally and internationally.
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