Amid fears that the number of Nigerians seeking asylum in gay-friendly countries would rise, the Royal Embassy of the Netherlands in Nigeria has confirmed that it has received some applications for asylum by some Nigerians who fear persecution and a backlash following the signing into law the anti-gay bill by President Goodluck Jonathan.
The embassy in an email to THISDAY, however, said it was neither involved in processing any application for asylum seekers nor does it have the power to grant asylum to applicants.
Since late last year when Jonathan assented to the Same-sex bill, Nigeria has come under criticisms from the United States and some European countries for criminalising same-sex unions.
Responding to concerns of a possible upsurge in the number of applicants seeking to flee Nigeria in the wake of the anti-gay clampdown, Netherlands said it could not predict whether there would be a rise in the number of those who want to flee Nigeria because of the new dispensation, adding that doing so would be mere speculation.
It however noted that even if there was an increase, it was expected to decrease as applicants become more aware about the modalities for asylum seekers in the Netherlands.
The email, which was received from the embassy, read: “The embassy has received a small number of applications for asylum by Nigerians. It is not possible to apply for asylum at the embassy. We inform the applicants likewise but we do not register the number of applications made.
“At this stage, it is not possible to make predictions. That would be speculation. However, when people become increasingly aware that it is not possible to apply for asylum at the embassy, one could expect a decrease. The embassy is not involved in the asylum process, neither in the application nor in the determination of the authenticity of claims.”
Also, a diplomat at the Canadian High Commission told THIISDAY that although there had been no significant increase in visa applications to Canada in recent times, asylum seekers could only obtain such privileges in Ottawa, on arrival in Canada.
“We cannot grant asylum to anyone here on any grounds, that is the prerogative of Ottawa. Such a Nigerian must have already satisfied regular visa requirements and must have travelled to Canada, he or she as the case may be, can now apply to stay back for fear of persecution upon return to Nigerian.
“But there would be investigations to ascertain if the person is gay and not just making claims,” the diplomat said.
Canada was one of the most vocal countries to condemn Nigeria's anti-gay law.
The Head, Political Section of the British High Commission in Abuja, Mr. Paul Edwards, also told THISDAY that it was too early to determine whether the law would have any impact on the number of asylum seekers.
In an email responding to THISDAY enquiries, Edwards said: “We cannot say at this stage whether the Act will have any impact on asylum claims. Asylum applications are assessed on whether a person can demonstrate that he or she faces genuine persecution in their country of origin.”
The Information Officer of the US Embassy in Abuja, Ms. Rhonda Ferguson-Augustus, said it was the duty of the US Department of Homeland Security to review asylum applications on a case-by-case basis.
“... and due to privacy concerns, we cannot comment on these cases,” she added.
An official of the embassy also confided in THISDAY that there was no truth in reports that the embassy was already experiencing an increase in visa applications from asylum seekers on such grounds.
“The law is relatively new, so we have not experienced such increase, but we expect to have applications from asylum seekers who wish to escape the hostilities soon. People seek asylum for matters less serious than this, so we expect that the increase would happen,” the official said.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Government has accused western nations of double standard over the new law banning same-sex marriages.
Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prof. Viola Onwuliri, said such criticisms stem from the “double standard” of the West.
Speaking to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on the sidelines of the just concluded AU summit, Onwuliri said the president signed the law in the interest of Nigerians and democracy.
“What happened in Nigeria is democracy in action and it will really be unfortunate that people who are talking about democracy when they now see democracy work, they want us to go against democracy,” she said.
“Is democracy for picking and choosing? When it suits them, they want us to have good governance and democracy, but when it does not suit them, they want us to go against the democracy that has been put in place.
“The National Assembly took a decision, the National Assembly is the face of democracy in Nigeria, they are the representatives of the people, they form the voice of the people and they have spoken,” she added.
On the situation in South Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR), the minister said Nigeria strongly backs the AU and regional groups’ role in demanding the return of peace and stability in the regions.
“Nigeria has taken a position on the need for peaceful resolutions in conflict situations in Africa, safety of lives and property and ensuring that women and children are safe in conflict areas,” she said.
The minister acknowledged that there had been demands for Nigeria to contribute troops to the African-led International Mission (MISCA) in CAR.
“The decision (to deploy troops to CAR) is for the president and commander-in-chief, but it’s not something new to us because Nigeria has been involved in peacekeeping since the 1960s,” she said.