Pakistani lesbian sisters refused asylum in UK
Nazia (left) and Samina Iqbal came out as gay 20 years ago.
Two Pakistani sisters face their last chance to avoid being deported to Pakistan where they say they face the threat of LGBT-based violence.
Samina, 52, and Nazia Iqbal, 48, from Stockport, UK, have had their asylum application rejected despite new evidence being brought forward as part of their submission.
The sisters were due to be deported in February but after Sky News asked for an explanation why the pair were being sent to a country where they fear for their lives, the Home Office appeared to make a U-turn on the decision as the sisters were not put on the plane.
The Iqbals have since been held in the notorious Yarl's Wood, while their brother-in-law has been sent threats against his sisters from people they know in Pakistan.
Despite being publicly out for 20 years and having records of threats made against them, the judge presiding over their previous application said it was not "credible" that they are gay.
When the sisters' appeal was dismissed last year, they lost their right to any further appeals unless a new submission was made as a fresh claim with new information put forward.
Today they face a bail hearing where their lawyer has the last opportunity to try to prevent them from being sent back to a country they fear.
Mohammed Akhtar told Sky News that by speaking to the press, the sisters have made it public knowledge that they are gay. This was not in their original application as they gave their interview after their appeal had been rejected but before the new submission was made.
He said: "Nazia and Samina are facing persecution if they are sent back to Pakistan. They have spoken openly about their sexuality and are the focus of a number of international news agencies,
"I don’t know what will convince the courts of their sexual orientation, one cannot be more out than on a public platform with their photographs plastered all over the internet, there have already been threats and messages been sent to the girls' brother-in-law via WhatsApp."
The Home Office would not comment on why the new information was not allowed to be included in the bid for a new submission. A spokesperson did say: "The UK has a proud record of providing protection to those fleeing persecution. In the 12 months to December 2019, we gave protection to over 20,000 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.”
Speaking shortly after being transferred to Yarl's Wood, Samina told Sky News she fears there will be "threats to our lives and rape" if they are taken back to Pakistan.
The sisters began to tell close friends they were gay and start dating women around 20 years ago after the death of their conservative parents and while still living in Sahiwal.
In a joint statement through their lawyer, they told Sky News: "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."
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.