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Fighting for the rights of LGBTQI+ asylum seekers

  • Amid the special edition rainbow bank cards and coffee cups, it is very easy to forget that today’s Pride celebrations have their roots in the Stonewall riots and the wider fight for justice for LGBTQI+people.

    There is no doubt that there have been incredible strides forward for LGBTQI+ rights over the last quarter of a century  – indeed the very fact that is has become so beneficial for big business to show its support for Pride is testament to how far we have come.

    However, we must not be fooled into believing the fight is in any way won. Homosexuality remains illegal in 74 countries, while hate crime and day-to-day prejudice remain issues even in the most progressive countries.

    Within the UK, one particularly pressing issue is the fight to protect the rights and ensure the wellbeing of LGBTQI+ asylum seekers. This week, I spoke to Leila Zadah of the UK  Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG) about their work to support LGBTQI+ asylum seekers and  advocate for their needs and rights.

    What is UKLGIG's mission and what support do you provide to LGBTQI+ asylum seekers? 

    "Our mission is to support LGBTQI+ through the asylum process. We are the only charity in the UK that provides specialist support services, legal advice and information, and conducts policy and advocacy work.

    We provide psychosocial and practical support to LGBTQI+ people throughout the asylum process. We also provide specialist legal advice and information. We visit LGBTQI+ people if they are claiming asylum and have been placed in a detention centre.

    We also advocate for changes in Home Office policy and practice, including an improvement in the quality of decision-making in asylum claims based on sexual orientation or gender identity, an end to the detention of LGBTQI+ people and safer accommodation."

    How many  LGBTQI+ people seek asylum in the UK per year and where do the majority of these claims come from?

    "Home Office figures published in November 2018 revealed that around 2,000 people apply for asylum each year because of their sexual orientation. Most applications are from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria.

    The Home Office data did not include claims on the basis of gender identity but they have committee to publishing that data in future."

    Why do LGBTQI+ people need specific support through the asylum process? In what way does the UK asylum system  disadvantage LGBTQI+ people?

    "LGBTQI+ people who are seeking asylum are invariably highly marginalised in society. They may have been rejected by their families, friends and communities because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. They often wish to avoid places where other people from their home countries are present for fear of discrimination or harassment; and they are not always welcome in LGBTQI+ spaces because of racism or their immigration status.

    Many experience feelings of profound shame and/or internalised homophobia, biphobia or transphobia. Many have also experienced psychological, physical or sexual violence. They often have low self-esteem and low confidence, which impact on their ability to present their asylum claims. Most mainstream refugee organisations do not provide specific services to LGBTQI+ asylum seekers or information tailored to their needs.

    Claiming asylum on the basis of your sexual orientation or gender identity is inherently difficult. To be recognised as a refugee, you have to show that you have a well-founded fear of persecution. If your fear of persecution is based on your sexual orientation or gender identity, you also have to prove that you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, trans or intersex. This would be difficult for any person, but it is even harder if you have been trying to hide your sexual orientation or gender identity because your family, society or country won’t accept it and may harm you. It is also very difficult to overcome feelings of shame and internalised homophobia, biphobia or transphobia to be able to talk about your identity – particularly if any discussion of sexuality is taboo in your culture – to a figure of authority who is going to decide if you can stay in the country.

    Unfortunately, sometimes asylum decision-makers in the Home Office use stereotypes to try to decide if someone is LGBTQI+. Sometimes they don’t recognise the importance of cultural context. One caseworker in the Home Office once said that to try to establish someone’s sexual orientation they would “look at how they’ve explored their sexuality in a cultural context – reading Oscar Wilde perhaps, films and music”.

    UKLGIG is releasing a report later this month that looks at the reasons why LGBTQI+ asylum claims are rejected. People can receive it by signing up to our newsletter or following us on social media (see below).

    People who are seeking asylum are not allowed to work. If they need accommodation, the government will normally provide a shared room in a shared house. LGBTQI+ people in shared asylum accommodation often experience discrimination, harassment and abuse from their housemates. 

    People who are seeking asylum can also be held in immigration detention centres. LGBTQI+ people who are seeking asylum find themselves trapped among people who may exhibit the same prejudices and discrimination towards them as people in the country from which they are fleeing. Our joint research with Stonewall, No Safe Refuge, showed that they experience harassment and abuse as a result. Many suffer long-lasting effects on their mental health."

    What are you doing to celebrate Pride 2018 and can people join you?

    "We will be marching at Pride in London on Sat 7 July. We also have a joint event the Amnesty UK LGBTI Network and African Rainbow Family at UK Black Pride on Sunday 8 July."

    How can people support your work in future? 

    We are always looking for Volunteers and you can Donate Here.

    If you’d like to be involved in our governance, you can become a Member of UKLGIG. Download a form Here.  

    People can also: