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US News 'Scared' gay sisters given temporary deportation reprieve

10:05  27 february  2020
10:05  27 february  2020 Source:   news.sky.com

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a group of people posing for the camera: Nazia (left) and Samina Iqbal came out as gay 20 years ago © Other Nazia (left) and Samina Iqbal came out as gay 20 years ago Two sisters say they are "relieved but worried" after they narrowly avoided being deported to Pakistan where they say they face the threat of LGBT-based violence.

Samina, 52, and Nazia Iqbal, 48, from Stockport, were scheduled to be taken out of the country on Saturday night from Manchester airport after a judge said it was not "credible" that they are gay, despite the sisters being publicly out for 20 years.

The pair were due to leave on a flight at 9pm on Saturday back to Pakistan but after being questioned by Sky News the Home Office appeared to make a U-turn on the decision as the sisters were not put on the plane.

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When contacted by Sky News to ask why the sisters were being deported a spokesperson said that "each case is considered on its merits".

The Iqbal sisters were not told they would not be put on the flight and only realised they were not leaving when Sky News informed them that the plane had taken off.

a person sitting on a table: Nazia and her sister say they faced threats when in Pakistan © Other Nazia and her sister say they faced threats when in Pakistan

The following day the pair were moved to the Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre, which has been criticised over treatment of detainees, something the Home Office has previously said has been improved upon.

The pair are now in limbo awaiting a bail hearing on Tuesday.

Speaking from Yarl's Wood, Samina, whose smart phone has been confiscated and replaced with a basic handset, told Sky News she and her sister are "relieved but still worried and stressed".

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They fear they may still be deported and are unclear what the future holds for them, saying they feel "scared" about being in Yarl's Wood.

"We are scared. We have been so upset, crying and don't feel like [we want] anything to eat or drink," she said.

a close up of text on a black surface: The two women fear for their safety if they are taken back to Pakistan © Other The two women fear for their safety if they are taken back to Pakistan Asked what she fears will happen to her and her sister if she goes back, she answers bluntly: "Threats to our lives and rape."

The Pakistani sisters began to tell close friends they were gay and start dating women around 20 years ago after the death of their conservative Muslim parents and while still living in Sahiwal.

In a joint statement through their lawyer, the sisters told Sky News: "We both knew we were gay all our lives but we couldn't accept it as it would have put our parents in hardship in Pakistan, and we couldn't see the shame in our parents eyes for us.

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"Homosexuality is despised in Pakistan and people are killed for being homosexual."

Nazia and Samina eventually confided in each other in a tear-filled conversation and supported each other as they began to try to find love.

a person posing for the camera: Samina says she and her sister are 'scared' © Other Samina says she and her sister are 'scared'

"After this we did pursue relationships and tried to keep it secret [but] it made us feel like we were criminals and unclean, we had to maintain our distance in public and enter through back doors to see our partners."

The sisters explained that when they reached an age that their community would expect them to be married or having had relationships with men, people "started putting two and two together and started talking".

They said: "It was soon after this that we started receiving threats and death threats being posted through our door. We had our windows broken and our partners moved away after their houses were broken into. We lived in fear."

Still scared to come out to their remaining family, Samina and Nazia did not tell their other sister and her husband until 2018 when it emerged that they may be forced to leave the UK.

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Their brother-in-law, Mohammed Naeem Ali, told Sky News: "I feel totally lost and helpless to try to stop my sisters being sent back to Pakistan.

"They went through a very traumatic period before finally coming over to us in 2010, all of it was unknown to me and their sister. All they kept saying to me was that it was not safe for them living there as two single women - hiding the real reason until recently when they told us in 2018."

a close up of text on a white background: It is against the law in Pakistan to be gay © Other It is against the law in Pakistan to be gay

He added: "I believe it is an underlying policy to discredit the majority of applications which makes me extremely angry."

Between 2016 and 2018, the UK Home Office has refused at least 3,100 asylum claims from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender nationals from countries where consensual same-sex acts are criminalised, according to a report from The Guardian last year.

The figures published by the Home Office showed at least 1,197 LGBT Pakistanis were refused asylum after making a claim for protection on grounds of sexual orientation in that time period.

It is illegal to be gay in Pakistan, although there is a small LGBT community in some areas of the country.

Mohammed Akthar, a lawyer hired by Mr Ali to help his sisters, told Sky News: "There is a trend of rejecting applications for asylum for members of the LGBTQ community who originate from South Asia or Africa.

"Judges are basing decisions on how a person looks or acts without giving context to a person's culture and environment and the stigma attached to one's sexuality in those communities."

A Home Office spokesperson said: "The UK has a proud record of providing protection to those fleeing persecution. In the 12 months to September 2019 we gave protection to over 19,000 people, the highest number since 2003.

"We do not routinely comment on operational matters or individual cases, but each case is considered on its merits against relevant case law and published country information."

Their case comes after a number of people were deported to Jamaica despite concerns over their human rights earlier this month. The Home Office said those on the flight had been convicted of "serious offences" and the department was bound by legislation to deport them.

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