Same-sex relationships are strictly forbidden in Nigeria: in some parts of the country, homosexuals are even in danger of death. Despite this, the Israeli Ministry of the Interior rejected an asylum application submitted by a Nigerian homosexual.
Being caught by your wife when you are in the company of your lover is never pleasant. However, not every adulterer may become the victim of a mass lynching in the same place. The hero of our story was unlucky because this happened to him in Nigeria – a country that discriminates against its citizens on the basis of sexual orientation. Nigeria is a country where homosexuals may face 14 years in prison. In the northern parts, where there is a Muslim majority, living under the sharia regime, the punishment is death by stoning. Furthermore: those who are aware of homosexual activity and do not report it, may receive a 5-year prison sentence.
Persecuted on the grounds of sexual orientation and fled to the Holy Land
When that man, who due to the circumstances and the intimate details published here, will be called by the pseudonym “Ibuku”, was caught and his true sexual identity – that is, his attraction to men – was revealed, he ran away to live with relatives in another city. In a short time it became clear that due to the intolerance and state laws mentioned above, his relatives might also act against him and hand him over to the authorities. As a result, Ibuko had to sneak into his house to get his passport and board the first flight to a foreign country. Thus, he arrived in the State of Israel, where, as is known, there is protection for members of the LGBT community.
Ibuko arrived in Israel as a tourist and submitted an asylum application based on the International Refugee Convention, which Israel is a signatory of – being part of a persecuted minority in Nigeria. For several years he lived and worked in Israel as an asylum seeker, holding a visa that allowed a temporary stay.
Rejection of the asylum request by the Israeli refugee department
In 2016 a decision was made regarding the acceptance of refugee status, by the Inter-ministerial Committee, whose representatives formulate the recommendation to the Minister of the Interior on rejecting or accepting asylum applications.
What were the reasons why the request was refused? The members of the committee admitted that there are laws against homosexuals in Nigeria, but they claimed that Ibuko did not prove that there was indeed a danger for him there, because it is possible that the laws are not actually enforced. It was also stated that he has a daughter in Nigeria from his marriage, with whom he maintains contact.
What does an asylum seeker in Israel need to prove in order to be recognized as a refugee?
Ibuko was required to present to the committee a legal-statistical analysis that proved that the laws in Nigeria are indeed applied in practice and that homosexuals are indeed persecuted in a tangible way. Thus, while the authorities of the State of Israel did not use professional tools to investigate the issue – Ibuko himself was required to bring evidence, in Israeli newspapers and on the Internet. The materials found by Ibuko were attached to the request by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which handled the appeal. It should be noted that the representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the committee supported the asylum request but did not share the information in his possession with the other members of the committee.
For obvious reasons, Ibuko never shared his sexual identity with his family and friends in Nigeria; He never confessed, was threatened or harmed due to being homosexual, until the moment when his identity was revealed and he was forced to flee Nigeria for fear of his life.
Therefore, it seemed reasonable to the committee representatives to assume that there was no reason to fear if Ibuko would return to his country. The fact that Ibuko is a law-abiding person, paradoxically worked against him, because the committee claimed that he would not be sentenced to prison or death, according to the laws of the country if he returned to Nigeria.
Finally, apparently as the decisive argument for rejecting the request, the committee claimed that Ibuko maintained contact with his family on Facebook, including his wife, even though, being in Nigeria, he feared that he would be handed over to the authorities. What’s more: after his arrival in Israel, his wife gave birth to a daughter, who was listed as his (it should be noted that in Nigeria, adultery is considered a punishable crime). The well-known conclusion we have regarding asylum seekers is that they are supposed to sever ties with their lives in their country of origin, in order to prove that they are in danger if they returned to their homeland.
The Ministry of the Interior does not follow its own procedures regarding asylum applications
At this point, according to the provisions of Israeli law, regulations, and common sense, the representatives of the Ministry of the Interior were supposed to confront Ibuko with the committee’s claims, ask him to respond, and explain his intentions and the circumstances of the matter. After all, every person in Israel has the right to a hearing, an opportunity to try to explain the apparent contradictions in his claims, before the competent authority, especially when it is – literally – a matter of life and death.
However, the committee decided to reject the asylum request, without any reference by Ibuko to the allegations against him. He was ordered to leave the country within 14 days.
Appeal to the Court of Appeals against the decision of the Ministry of the Interior
Ibuko did not give up and decided to appeal, with the help of a lawyer, to the Court of Appeals, according to the Law on Entry into Israel, to bring arguments against the committee’s decision. The appeal was filed on time and Ibuko received an interim order to prevent removal from the country, pending a hearing and decision on the appeal.
The representatives of the Legal Bureau of the Ministry of the Interior asked to reject the appeal outright. They claimed that according to the regulations, when it comes to appealing an asylum request, it is mandatory to include new and relevant information that was not known to the respondent (Ministry of Interior asylum department) when the decision was made. Ibuko’s appeal was mainly based on the violation of Ibuko’s right to a hearing, against the claims of the Ministry of Interior. The asylum seeker was not given any opportunity to confront the information, on the basis of which the committee rejected his claims and to explain himself.
After discussions between the representatives of the parties, before the judge at the Court of Appeals, it was agreed to return Ibuko’s case for a renewed examination, within 30 days, at the inter-ministerial committee, for the purpose of reconsideration. After the interview, the Ministry of the Interior is required to make a decision regarding the asylum request, within 60 days. The Ministry of the Interior was required to pay Ibuko a reimbursement of expenses in the amount of NIS 2,000. As of today, despite the decision of the Court of Appeals, the Ministry of the Interior is delaying summoning Ibuko for an interview, contrary to the provisions of the ruling. In light of past experience, we anticipate that the processing of the request will be prolonged, and it is also possible that Ibuko will be required to return to the appeals court down the road.
In conclusion – fighting the Israeli immigration system
In principle, the State of Israel accepts asylum seekers as refugees on the basis of persecution, in particular in cases where the asylum seeker’s life is in danger. However, sometimes the Ministry of the Interior creates difficulties for the asylum seeker; And he must fight for his right against the Israeli immigration authorities. Legal representation by an attorney dealing in the field may increase the chances of receiving asylum.