opinion

'The UK government's anti-refugee bill will put LGBTQ lives at risk'

The government's cruel proposals will make a difficult asylum process even harder for vulnerable people, writes Rainbow Migration executive director Leila Zadeh.

2021-08-24

Words: Leila Zadeh; Image: Pexels

This article appears in the Attitude September Style Issue, out now.

In July, the Nationality and Borders Bill started its journey through Parliament.

For months now, the government has been ramping up its rhetoric around this bill, but all the tough talk is merely a smokescreen to distract us from the fact that, in reality, this is an anti-refugee bill. It will make sweeping changes to the asylum system and will mean that many LGBTQI+ refugees will no longer get protection in the UK.

It’s already difficult for LGBTQI+ people who are fleeing persecution to find safety in the UK, and these cruel proposals will make it even harder. In order to secure asylum or refugee protection, people have to ‘prove’ their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics (SOGIESC). Many are not even aware that they can be given protection on account of being LGBTQI+, so they often apply long after arriving in the country.

'Samir' (not his real name), for example, was attacked in Kosovo because of his sexual orientation. When he was offered work experience outside of Kosovo not long after his attack, he took it. However, he didn’t know he could claim asylum. He overstayed his visa rather than go back to Kosovo and was arrested by immigration off icials on a bus.

“It was very scary… I remember them cuffing me, I felt very vulnerable. I felt like a criminal but without having done a crime,” he says.

The bill will penalise people like Samir. It will also spoil the chances of a future free from harm for LGBTQI+ people who are too afraid to claim asylum immediately on arrival in the UK. Many will have been hiding their SOGIESC for years, and this government is asking them to overcome a lifetime of discrimination and fear to disclose the most intimate aspects of their lives to a complete stranger, who then decides if they believe them or not (and, incidentally, the bill is raising that bar higher).

The bill will also force people to produce relevant evidence by a date imposed by the Home Office. This will be hugely damaging to LGBTQI+ people because of the difficulties in gathering and providing evidence that helps confirm their SOGIESC. For instance, it can be an enormous challenge to contact former partners who remain in the country of origin to ask them for a supporting letter, and even if contact is made, they can be too afraid to write a witness statement.

Leila Zadeh is executive director of Rainbow Migration

The bill opens the way for the government to require people to stay in reception centres, potentially overseas, while their asylum claim is being processed, too. Imagine having to leave everyone and everything you know behind just because you’re LGBTQI+, and being sent to a mass holding facility in a country thousands of miles away that you’ve never set foot in. This will only traumatise people further.

LGBTQI+-phobic violence and harassment is rife in immigration detention, and these reception centres will be no different. They will be fertile grounds for homophobia, biphobia and transphobia to run rampant. If they are in other countries, the geographic separation from community organisations and charities like ours means the people housed there will be even more isolated and at risk of violence.

Keeping people in such a dangerous environment will force them into the closet for their own protection. That doesn’t help when you have to prove you are LGBTQI+.

You will not only be at higher risk of abuse, but also less likely to be able to present a successful asylum claim. This essentially amounts to a double punishment for LGBTQI+ people seeking refuge.

These are just a few examples of a barrage of brutal changes in the bill that will make an already ineff ective and inhumane system even more cold-hearted and cruel. Many of
those who approach Rainbow Migration for help may not be able to rebuild their lives free from LGBTQI+ phobia in the UK if these proposals become law. This government should focus on creating a kind and compassionate asylum system, rather than on causing further distress to people who are only looking for a place to live in safety and dignity.

Please write to your MP and ask them to vote against the changes to the asylum system in the bill. We must stand with everyone in the LGBTQI+ community.

Leila Zadeh is executive director of Rainbow Migration. Follow her on Twitter @leilazadeh.