A man accused of pretending to be gay to avoid deportation to his native Malaysia, where homosexual acts are illegal, has been granted asylum after the Home Office accepted that people could be gay and single.
The result is being celebrated as a victory against outdated stereotypes about gay people.
Yew Fook Sam, also known as Sam, faced deportation earlier this year after an immigration judge questioned why he could not prove any past relationships to help prove his sexuality.
The Home Office relented and granted him asylum for five years following a campaign by Sam’s friends at Open Table, an ecumenical Christian community for LGBTQ+ people.
Sam, 67, said it was “the best Christmas present ever” when he received the news. “Oh my god, I was so happy. I was at college when my lawyer rang me and I was screaming and shouting, I was so joyful. My classmates were wondering what was going on,” he said.
He has been studying travel and tourism at Liverpool College, where he is a *LGBT class representative, and hopes to become a tour guide, showing visitors from the Far East around the north-west of England.
Helene Santamera, Sam’s lawyer at Immigration Advice Service in Liverpool, said: “We think it is fundamental for outdated stereotypes and prejudice regarding sexuality to be challenged in the context of those seeking sanctuary, and to take those further steps to protect our most vulnerable clients.
“It is credit to Sam’s bravery and to all of those involved in supporting him for achieving this outcome. His case highlights the effort and perseverance that is required to obtain justice for the Sam arrived in the UK in 2005 on a tourist visa and never left. Unable to live openly as a gay man in Malaysia, where gay sex carries a penalty of up to 20 years’ imprisonment and possible whipping, he sought sanctuary in the UK.
He claimed asylum on the basis that he would be persecuted for his sexuality were he to return home, but found it difficult, having not had a partner for most of his stay. At an immigration tribunal, a judge said there were a “number of inconsistencies in his evidence that go to the very core of his claim to be a homosexual man”.
The judge questioned why Sam could not prove any past gay relationships: “The appellant claims that he had no relationships between 2005 and 2016. The appellant is unable to produce as a witness a single person in the UK who can vouch for the appellant in terms of being or having been in a homosexual relationship with him, either a loving relationship or a sexual one. Given that the appellant left Malaysia in order to express his sexuality I find that incredible.”
Among those to support Sam’s appeal was Kieran Bohan, a chaplain at the Liverpool YMCA and network coordinator at Open Table.
He said earlier this year: “In addition to [Sam] being 67 years old and chronically ill and on very limited income and having English as a second language – all factors which make finding a partner difficult – he is also a Christian, and not every Christian chooses to be in a relationship, particularly in later life.
“This is an argument we will likely make for the fresh asylum claim, that it is a western cultural assumption that you have to be sexually active in order to have a healthy sexuality. They couldn’t get away with saying to a 76-year-old heterosexual that you can’t be heterosexual because you don’t have a partner. It’s absurd and unjust.”
Open Table said it was “delighted” to hear the news of asylum being granted.
In appealing against his deportation, Sam said he told a judge that he didn’t have a boyfriend because he was surviving on £5 a day given to asylum seekers. “I said I hardly have enough money for food for myself, let alone to go out on dates,” he said. “And anyway, I am 67 and I am short and fat and too old.”
Now that the stress has lifted, he insisted he wasn’t looking for love. “I prefer to be alone,” he said.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “This government has a proud record of providing protection for asylum seekers fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Each case is considered on its individual merits carefully and sensitively by experienced caseworkers, based on the available evidence and published country information.”
* LGBT + stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people while the plus sign includes a whole spectrum of sexualities and gender identities from intersex, asexual and queer, with queer used as a reclaimed term, as well as our heterosexual allies.