By Eliel Cruz
Originally published on Advocate.com July 03 2014 5:43 PM ET
A bisexual asylum-seeker in the United Kingdom was spared removal after his ticket on a flight scheduled to return him to Jamaica yesterday was canceled, following his attorney's filing of a bail application and hearing with the U.K. immigration department.
Orashia Edwards, 32, lost his lengthy legal battle Tuesday when the U.K. Home Office denied him asylum on the basis of his sexuality, claiming the Jamaican national had been "dishonest" about his sexual orientation.
The court did not release any official documentation about why it found Edwards's claim of bisexuality "dishonest," though Edwards does have a 1-year-old daughter in Leeds. He came to the U.K. in 2012 seeking asylum.
"Orashia Edwards is bisexual," Zareen Preston, Edwards's legal representative, tells The Advocate. "He has been consistent throughout about his sexuality. He has provided everything he possibly can to prove his case and has effectively been on trial for two years. He came to the U.K. for protection and has been treated like a criminal by the very system that should be providing protection to genuine asylum-seekers like Orashia who are at risk of persecution in their own country. No one should live in fear due to their sexuality."
Preston says her client has already been singled out for unfair treatment while being detained by immigration officers.
"Orashia has been detained twice and has been treated appalingly whilst in detention," Preston says. "He was attacked three times and refused medical attention by the staff at the detention cener. His medication for his depression was taken away from him. We challenged the detention center about both things and did not receive a response."
Preston and Madeleine Anderson created the nonprofit Immigration Legal Advice Centre in 2011, and they have been represeting Edwards pro bono. They were recently joined by barrister Paul Turner, who submitted an application to the London Court of Appeals yesterday requesting bail, which would effectively place a hold on Edwards's removal proceedings.
In addition to the allegation of troubling treatment in detention, Preston also asserts there is a history of anti-LGBT bias in the Home Office's decisions about who is granted asylum.
"The Home Office refuses about 98 percent of all gay and bisexual asylum-seekers," Preston tells The Advocate. "There is a culture of disbelief within the Home Office that gay or bisexual asylum-seekers are genuine. All evidence is seen as self-serving — the same evidence that is always accepted in heterosexual cases, such as witness statements, photos, letters from organizations. In assessing gay and bisexual cases so differently to heterosexual applicants, the Home Office is actively discriminating against gay and bisexual asylum-seekers. The way in which the Home Office treats gay and bisexual asylum seekers needs to be urgently reviewed."
The Home Office has repeatedly denied allegations that it is biased in how it makes asylum decisions.
"The U.K. has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need it and we consider every application on its individual merits,” a Home Office spokesperson told U.K. LGBT site PinkNews. “Mr. Edwards was found not to need the protection of the U.K., and this decision has been upheld in the courts by an independent immigration judge who did not find Mr. Edwards’s claims to be credible."
Leeds No Borders, an organization that campaigns on behalf of LGBT asylum-seekers, has also rallied around Edwards's case, issuing a press release after Tuesday's decision encouraging supporters to call British Airways and demand the airline cancel the flight on which Edwards was to be removed from the U.K. The tactic was successful once before, when public pressure on the airline kept Edwards off a flight slated to remove him in January. This time, however, the Home Office canceled Edwards's ticket after his attorneys filed an application for bail.
Edwards and his family fear for his safety, as LGBT people in Jamaica suffer intense persecution. Just last Sunday, 25,000 protesters rallied in support of Jamaica’s “buggery law,” a colonial-era law that criminalizes sodomy. Time magazine named the country the "most homophobic place on earth," citing the frequent assaults and even murders of LGBT people. According to a 2012 report from U.S.-based nonprofit AIDS-Free World, 85 percent of Jamaicans say they’re homophobic. The pressure of the entire ordeal has prompted both Edwards and his mother, Vienna, to seek medical treatment due to stress levels.
The situation has become dire as Edwards has made national news in Jamaica. His story is among the most popular at the Jamaica Observer, with nearly 20,000 page views. The article has received more than 100 comments, many of which express doubt that Edwards is bisexual and claim he is lying in an effort to stay in the U.K. Edwards has been receiving death threats through Facebook, according to Facebook page “Defend Orashia.” He is reportedly submitting new evidence to appeal the court’s decision on his asylum today.
Leeds No Borders is asking supporters to keep up the pressure on the Home Office by contacting the agency via email. A Change.org petition demanding Edwards be given asylum has received more than 1,000 signatures.
For more background on Edwards's story, watch the clip below from a forthcoming documentary about him, State of Limbo.