A woman applying for asylum in Israel, who says she was persecuted in her home country of Ghana for being a lesbian, has had her application denied. A refugee committee concluded that Mavis Amponsah previously had a relationship with a man and subsequently “chose the lesbian lifestyle,” making her asylum request invalid.

Haaretz reports that Amponsah entered Israel as a tourist in 2013 and applied for asylum; she was been held in prison for the last five months after failing to renew her residence permit. Haaretz learned that Amponsah was interviewed more than once by immigration authorities in English, a language she doesn’t speak, and at one interview, asked that questions be repeated 35 times and frequently couldn’t answer them.

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Regardless, the advisory committee on refugees, which reports to the Interior Ministry, decided there was reason to doubt Amponsah’s story—that she fled Ghana fearing for her life after being in a relationship with a woman for the last 20 years. She told Haaretz through a translator that she and her partner were assaulted twice, that there were threats on their lives, and that her father, a community leader, told her she would only be safe if she ended her relationship.

The committee’s chairman told the newspaper that—to paraphrase this—if Amponsah is a lesbian, how come she’s not dating women in Israel?

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 also claimed that while being gay is illegal for men in Ghana, the law is “silent with regard to women.” That’s an interesting conclusion: in 2011, a government minister for the western region called for the arrest of all gay men and lesbians, and for landlords to report tenants they thought might be gay. While the mass arrest wasn’t carried out, Amnesty International found in 2013 that violence against LGBT people is still common, recounting a wedding between two women that was interrupted by mob violence:

In March 2012, young people in Accra’s James Town community disrupted a planned wedding ceremony between two women, and assaulted them and their guests. The women were later arrested and detained at the James Town Police station for “engaging in illegal practice”. They were released after their relatives intervened.

Human Rights Watch reports that same-sex relationships in Ghana are punishable by a prison sentence of three years, and that 98 percent of Ghanaians polled in a pew survey said they believed that homosexuality is “morally unacceptable,” the highest percentage of any country in Africa.

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“Anti-LGBT rhetoric is rampant from prominent Ghanaian politicians and LGBT citizens face societal discrimination and the threat of violent attack,” their report adds.

Haaretz reports that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is recommending that Amponsah be interviewed in a language she actually speaks. The Israeli LGBT Association told the paper that the refugee committee’s criteria were “baseless and outdated, and should no longer be used.”

Israel has a spotty record on admitting refugees, particularly from African countries. This May, Eritraen and Sudanese refugees were threatened with indefinite prison sentences if they didn’t accept a one-way ticket home. Three Eritreans who sought refuge in Israel and were sente back were murdered by ISIS in Libya this April.

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The country is also frequently accused of “pinkwashing,” playing up its own supposedly tolerant stance on LGBT citizens and the gay-friendliness of places like Tel Aviv, while ignoring its own continued human rights violations against Palestinians. While some Israeli papers claim that LGBT Palestinians have found “refuge” in Israel, Palestinians are not granted asylum in the country, even, as the Daily Beast wrote, when being persecuted for their sexuality.


Contact the author at anna.merlan@jezebel.com.

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African migrants protest in front of Israel’s interior Minister’s office demanding asylum and work rights, Tel Aviv, February, 2014. Photo via AP Images