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In a landmark case that could set a new precedent for asylum-seeking Jamaican homosexuals, an immigration tribunal has granted a Jamaican lesbian the right to stay in the United Kingdom after agreeing with her lawyers that she risked persecution in a "deeply homophobic society", the BBC reported yesterday.
Senior judges in the Upper Tribunal's Immigration and Asylum Chamber in London said the case provided potential "country guidance" on the issue of the risks to lesbians returning to Jamaica.
The immigration judges said she was "entitled to refugee protection", after the woman appealed an original refusal.
The woman who cannot be identified under British law, left Jamaica to study in the UK in 2003 won an appeal to immigration judges after the Home Office, the country's interior ministry, had refused her "refugee protection" in the UK, the BBC said.
Lawyers for the woman, who now lives in Stoke-in-Trent in the English west Midlands, argued that she would be at risk of persecution and clinical depression should she return to Jamaica.
In her appeal she said that Jamaica was a "deeply homophobic" country in which she as a known or "out" lesbian had been threatened with "corrective rape" and suffered clinical depression, the BBC reported.
It said that it was only in Britain that she found that she could live as an openly gay woman and that her partner was unwilling to return with her to Jamaica.
The judges were told that the woman became aware of her sexuality as a young girl but lived as a "discreet lesbian", using social networking on the Internet to socialise with other women.
She told the tribunal that while the women were going out dancing with each other, they were declared as likely lesbians out with this group on one occasion they were identified as possible lesbians and the DJ began playing hostile songs with anti-gay lyrics.
A group of men then threatened to "convert" the women by raping them and followed them out of the bar, she told the judges. The women escaped unharmed, the BBC said.
It was while she was abroad where she enjoyed the freedom to live an openly gay lifestyle that she became clinically depressed and stressed upon each return to Jamaica where she faced a life in the shadows. She could not discuss this with her doctor, she told the tribunal.
As a student in the UK in 2003, she came to realise that she could have open relationships with other women.
Now, after more than seven years living as an openly gay woman, she told the tribunal that she was no longer "the same person" and could not risk her depression by returning.
Her partner was unwilling to join her in a country where it would be unsafe to live as an openly gay woman and was prepared to end the relationship if she returned to Jamaica, the woman told the tribunal.
Lawyers for the woman argued that Jamaica was a "deeply homophobic society". Lesbians and women thought to be gay risked being victims of violence, including "corrective" rape and murder, the immigration judges heard.
In granting her appeal, senior immigration judges said that any return to a discreet life would be the result of a fear of persecution rather than mere "social pressures", the BBC reported.
Gay Jamaicans are increasingly turning to Britain, Canada and the US as havens for asylum seekers as they fear persecution and death at the hands of homophobic Jamaicans.
In February, Immigration Equality, which campaigns on behalf of gay and HIV-positive asylum-seekers who face persecution in their homelands, said it won dozens of asylum applications for Caribbean clients in 2010.
Of the record 101 cases it undertook last year, 28 of the 38 Caribbean people seeking asylum were Jamaican, the group said.
Since the mid-1990s, the United States has recognised persecution due to sexual orientation and gender identity as a basis for seeking asylum.
Canada has also granted asylum to gay Jamaicans.
Homosexuality remains illegal in Jamaica.