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LGBTQ refugee charity head calls out the UK government on ‘appalling’ Rwanda plan

Leila Zadeh spoke to Attitude about the government's plan to send refugees to Rwanda at the Pride Awards.

By Alastair James

Words: Alastair James; pictures: Attitude and Kit Oates

The director of a charity helping LGBTQ migrants and refugees has called out the UK government on its handling of refugees and for the two candidates to become the next Prime Minister to “be kind” to refugees.

Leila Zadeh, the executive director of Rainbow Migration, was speaking exclusively to Attitude on Thursday (28 July) at the Attitude Pride Awards, in association with Magnum, where she collected an award on behalf of the charity

Adams Kofi Asamoah and Leila Zadeh (Photo: Kit Oates)

Asked about the government’s plan to ship migrants off to Rwanda, a notoriously homophobic country, Leila told Attitude it was “one of the most appalling things I’ve ever heard the government of this country come out with.”

She continued: “That people who are looking to just rebuild their lives and live safely and be their best selves may be punished for just wanting to live their lives. And I don’t think any refugee should be sent to any other country by force, let alone LGBTQI plus people to Rwanda where it’s just not safe for them,” pointing to research by the government which indicated very present homophobia there.

“They just absolutely should not be sending people there. And they should be taking this policy off the table,” Leila said.

In April, the government proposed the idea of shipping migrants to Rwanda and say that since then people have not been deterred from coming here, as reported by the BBC.

The broadcaster says between the announcement of the policy and the end of June, nearly 7,500 asylum seekers arrived in the UK – more than 60 percent higher than the 4,500 who arrived in the same period in 2021.

Rainbow Migration says it has worked with refugees seeking asylum from Rwanda because of the treatment of LGBTQ people there. While homosexuality is legal in Rwanda there are horrifying reports of people being abused or attacked for their identity.

A number of legal challenges have been launched against the policy and intervention from the European Court of Human Rights halted the first planned flight. However, it has shown no signs of stopping the UK government enacting the plan. 

Leila believes receiving a Pride award demonstrates and speaking to other guests at the Pride awards demonstrates the level of love and compassion from people in the UK, which is lacking in the government’s response to the refugee situation. 

On what people can do to help, Leila answers that the key is vocal support. 

“MPs need to hear from their constituents. They’ve got it in their power to change laws and policies in this country. So if anyone wants to make a difference, I would say please write to your MP, and make your views on the matter clear.”

Speaking to Attitude prior to the awards Leila mentioned speaking to Parliamentarians and civil servants as part of her job helping refugees navigate this country’s infamously punishing asylum and immigration system.

Disappointingly, the conversations don’t appear to be going well. 

“This government is becoming more and more difficult to engage with. But we do know that MPs listen to their constituents. So it’s really important for all of us to act, we are also doing public campaigning. So if people would like to support us in our campaigns, please go to our social channels and visit our website, you can sign up there”

Rainbow Migration is currently running a campaign to end the detention of LGBTQ people who were just put into immigration detention centres, where homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia is endemic. These conditions only make the process of claiming asylum more difficult, Leila tells Attitude.

Bearing in mind the current Conservative Leadership election and the fact that from 5 September we’ll have a new Prime Minister in Downing Street I ask Leila what her message is to Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, the two candidates left in the race.

“Be kind. Refugees and LGBTQI plus people are like everybody else in this country. We all just want to live our lives and be free. Scrap the Rwanda deal scrap the Nationalities and Borders Act and welcome all refugees in this country.”

The Attitude September/October issue is available to download and order in print now and will be on newsstands from Thursday 4 August.