LGBT+ refugees desperately need help, but UK’s plans will send them back to danger

Benali Hamdache, Green Party spokesperson for migration and refugee support, looks at the issues facing LGBT+ refugees on World Refugee Day.

In too many places, this pandemic has allowed regimes to crackdown on LGBT+ people. Cameroon, Ghana, Philippines and Uganda have all seen outbreaks of arbitrary arrests and violence. LGBT+ refugees in Kenyan camps have experienced assault and murder.

Here in the UK the Home Office’s social media is currently adorned with the rainbow flag and Boris Johnson has acknowledged that COVID has worsened the situation for LGBT+ people globally. We have a government that professes inclusivity, openness and action.

But Priti Patel’s New Plan for Immigration threatens to close the door on countless LGBT+ refugees. At a time when refuge is in greater need, our Home Secretary is out selling harsh new proposals on refugees during Pride Month.

Earlier on in the year, the Home Secretary released a 46 page policy statement on her vision for changing the asylum process. These represent the biggest changes proposed in two decades. Nowhere in the document is the impact on refugees seeking support because of their gender or sexuality considered.

But those impacts are real and have been laid out by Rainbow Migration, one of the country’s leading charities working with LGBT+ refugees.

The first concern is the demand that all evidence for an asylum claim must be laid out at the beginning of the case. It is suggested that anything disclosed later will be given “minimum weight”.

This will mean many more LGBT+ asylum seekers will have their claims rejected. The reality is that not everyone is able to tell a stranger everything that has happened to them immediately. Many will carry huge amounts of shame and trauma about the experiences that brought them to flee. This harsher process will result in people being sent back to danger.

There is no need to dramatically shorten the process in manner. People deserve a fair hearing and the time to open up and share their journey.

The second concern is around how refugees will be detained. Detaining people in “reception centres” will be doubly damaging for a range of asylum seekers.

There’s huge amounts of evidence that LGBT+ asylum seekers face discrimination and intimidation in refugee holding centres. While out in the community people have been able to find support and begin to express their gender and sexuality freely.

We’ve seen what mass detention of refugees looks like in Australia. Unbelievably hostile spaces that re-traumatise the traumatised. We should not be emulating that here.

The final concern, also laid out excellently by Rainbow Sisters (a collective of LGBT+ women and non-binary refugees), is around routes to the UK.

The new proposals threaten to send back anyone who could have claimed asylum somewhere on their way to the UK. They make arbitrary decisions about what constitutes a safe harbour for LGBT+ refugees and emphasise the value of resettlement plans. But many LGBT+ people have to flee their homes suddenly and quickly. What constitutes a safe country may differ widely from person to person and across the EU not all countries guarantee the same level of rights to LGBT+ people.

These proposals also threaten the plight of trafficked people. Punishing refugees for being brought here “illegally” would add another layer of cruelty.

In reality Priti Patel’s proposals that asylum seekers can be sent back to their first “safe” harbour seem unlikely. EU countries in the wake of Brexit seem unwilling to sign any kind of reciprocal deal along these lines. LGBT+ refugees deserve more than empty threats and being treated like a political football.

We already have an undoubtedly harsh asylum system. A Freedom of Information request looked at how many claims based on gender or sexuality had been rejected between 2016 and 2018. More than 3,100 LGBT+ asylum claims had been rejected from countries where gay sex is criminalised. From Pakistan and Nigeria to Bangladesh.

Priti Patel’s proposals to make the system harsher are wrongheaded and mean spirited. This Pride, our government cannot claim to be allies, but then turn its back on LGBT+ people in danger.