Israel Refuses Asylum for Ghana Citizen Because 'She Chose to Be a Lesbian'

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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Mavis Amponsah.Credit: Moti Milrod
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

An asylum request by a female citizen of Ghana who claimed to have been persecuted there for being a lesbian was rejected by an advisory committee on refugees reporting to the Interior Ministry, after determining that she had conducted a long-term relationship with a man and had not had any relationship with a woman in Israel.

The committee determined that Mavis Amponsah had chosen “to adopt a lesbian lifestyle,” so her claims that this is her sexual preference should be rejected. The decision was made based on interviews conducted in English, despite Amponsah’s declarations that she doesn’t speak the language.

For the past five months she has been held in jail after not renewing her residence permit on time, due to a misunderstanding, according to her. She was released earlier this week after court proceedings.

Amponsah, 41, entered Israel as a tourist in December 2013. That month she filed a request for asylum. She said that she had been in a relationship with another woman in Ghana for 20 years, and that her community objected to this and pressured her father, the tribe’s leader.

According to Amponsah, she and her partner were assaulted on two occasions, and there were threats to kill them. Following the assaults she had to leave home, but the harassment continued. Her father warned her that his life was also in danger if she did not break off her relationship.

In a conversation with Haaretz, assisted by a translator to Akan, she repeated the gist of the story, saying she had maintained links with her partner but could not return to Ghana out of fear for her life.

The advisory committee doubted Amponsah’s story and rejected her request. The committee’s chairman, attorney Avi Himi, said that her statements contained many contradictions and facts that didn’t add up. He didn’t believe that she was a lesbian.

“She never said she was attracted to women but stated that she became a lesbian after being disappointed with her relationship with a previous male partner, who betrayed her for another woman,” he wrote.

“Her statements show that she consciously and rationally adopted a lesbian lifestyle. This wasn’t a preference she had had all her life, forming an integral part of her identity, so her claims of a clear sexual preference are unacceptable. Since arriving in Israel she didn’t meet women or act on her alleged preference, even though free to do so. This is contrary to what might be expected of someone fleeing persecution for a sexual preference.”

Himi related to other contradictions in her versions and said that she “couldn’t prove fear based on persecution if she returned to Ghana. While the law there forbids homosexual ties between men it is silent with regard to women.”

He noted that the gay community there is threatened and harassed, and that this could turn into persecution as the Ghanian authorities do not provide any effective protection for the gay community.

Two months ago, after Amponsah’s interviews, attorney Yadin Elam started representing her. He appealed to the Population, Immigration and Border Authority and protested “the absurd claims regarding her sexual inclinations,” demanding a repeat interview with a translator to Akan, a language she knows. In a previous interview held in prison last March after she was detained, the translator determined that she “had difficulties with English.” Nevertheless, that interview as well as subsequent ones was held in English.

Contrary to procedures and court rulings, another Akan-speaking prisoner was asked to translate at another comprehensive interview held in May, but Amponsah refused. That interview was also held in English. She asked that questions be repeated 35 times during the interview. On other occasions she answered only partially or not to the point.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees also believed that Amponsah doesn’t speak English and recommended interviewing her in a language she knows in order to arrive at a fair decision.

Following a question by Haaretz, the Israeli LGBT Association said that “the arguments appearing in the committee’s decision regarding sexual inclinations are baseless and outdated, and should no longer be used. A lesbian’s inclination can exist even if she doesn’t act on it by living with another woman, just as a heterosexual woman maintains her sexual identity when she lives alone, or when she chooses not to act on her romantic or physical attraction to men.”

The Population and Immigration Authority responded by saying that “claims that Ms. Amponsah was interviewed in a language she supposedly doesn’t know, leading to doubts over our professionalism, are ridiculous, not fitting what really happened. After providing you with details, these were ignored, since the examples and details that came out in the interviews contradict what you claim. The interviews are all recorded and documented. She had several interviews lasting many hours, in the presence of her attorney. She was repeatedly asked if the questions were clear and was told that if not they would be repeated. She agreed to not having a translator.”

Regarding decisions on her sexual preference, the authority said that the “final opinion was based on all the interviews and on other parameters, some of them personal, that should not be made public for the sake of modesty and respect for her dignity.”

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