The UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) has reviewed guidelines for its decision makers on how to consider and grant asylum applications made by persons fleeing Boko Haram and ISWAP in northeast Nigeria, TheCable can report.
In a recent review seen by TheCable, UKVI is willing to grant asylum to LGBTI persons or women who work or are in education — and other social groups at risk of attack by extremists in the region.
The UK has remained silent about asylum for members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) and Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB).
In April 2021, TheCable reported that the UK said it would grant asylum to “persecuted” members of IPOB, which has been designated as a terrorist organisation by the Nigerian government, and MASSOB.
A few days later, following the report and subsequent complaints from the Nigerian government, the UK pulled down the policy notes, stating that it was being reviewed.
In the most recent July 2021 review, UKVI updated its designation for insurgent groups in northeast Nigeria, clearly naming them “Islamist extremists” in the region.
It said Nigerians could now claim asylum in the UK if they face “fear of persecution and/or serious harm by members of Boko Haram because of” their “actual or perceived opposition to the group”.
The guidelines, now known as country policy and information note, added that Nigerians could claim asylum if they belong to a social group that is “not compliant with Boko Haram ideology”.
Examples include “women who work or are in education and lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) persons”.
WOMEN AND BOKO HARAM
Boko Haram started as an insurgent group in northeast Nigeria in 2009, but has since gone through numerous changes in leadership, ideology and affiliation.
One thing that seemed to have remained constant is the abduction of women and girls, attacks on schools and general opposition to western education.
In 2016, Boko Haram split into two groups: Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA or ISWAP); and Jamaat Ahl al-Sunna li-Dawa wal-Jihad (JASDJ), which maintained the name Boko Haram.
Following the reported death of Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, a reunion has been reported to have happened between both groups. Boko Haram has continued striking post-reunion, recently injuring two women in the process.
As a result of Boko Haram’s historical and current records, women, especially women in education, are at more risk of persecution from the group, giving them more preference when seeking asylum.
The UK said “the groups have also forcibly recruited and abducted thousands of men, women and children, subjecting many to intimidation and abuse including sexual violence, forced marriage and using young girls, in particular, to carry person-borne IED’s/as suicide bombers”.
LGBTI: HURT BY BOKO HARAM, REJECTED BY GOVT
In January 2014, former president Goodluck Jonathan, signed into law a bill that criminalises same-sex relationships, defying western pressure over gay rights and provoking criticism from the US, UK and much of the international community.
The law prescribes 14 years imprisonment for same-sex “amorous relationships” and membership of gay rights groups in the country.
President Muhammadu Buhari has come under pressure to repeal the law, but that move has made no progress with the incumbent administration.
UKVI prescribes internal relocation for persons persecuted by Boko Haram in the northeast, suggesting they could be taken to central and southern Nigeria, which is “generally not directly affected by activities” of the group.
However, members of the LGBTI community can be victimised anywhere in Nigeria, raising the stakes for them, when applying.
“Boko Haram continues to be able to operate in rural areas of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, and to be able to attack targets in rural and urban areas in the North East of the country,” the UKVI said.
“In areas outside of the North East where the threat is from Boko Haram, the authorities are generally able and willing to provide effective protection. Women, LGBTI persons and non-indigenes may face additional discrimination which prevents them from being able to access effective protection.
As a result, the UK is willing to offer protection for such people if the risk of persecution is confirmed.
“The question to be addressed in each case is whether the particular person will face a real risk of persecution on account of their actual or imputed convention reason,” UKVI added.
While women and LGBTI persons are at a higher risk, UKVI added that decision makers “must, however, still consider all claims on an individual basis, taking into account each case’s specific facts”.