According to new research from Stonewall and the UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group or ULKGIG.
The report, named No Safe Refuge, looked at the ability of the UK to protect LGBT asylum seekers, and that ability has been met with heavy criticism. The report, which was published today, reveals the discrimination and violence that LGBT people can face. This was determined via 22 in-depth interviews with detainees.
The report reads: “Those who are open about their sexual orientation or gender identity often experience harassment and abuse from other detainees. Many feel forced to hide their sexual orientation and gender identity while in detention as they fear bullying and discrimination. Trans detainees face particular danger in having to share bedrooms and communal showers with other detainees.”
One of the interviewees in the Stonewall report was Gasha, who went into great detail about how distressing living in a detention cell can be: “I got flashbacks of everything I’ve been through in Africa. I’ve been free for two or three years and then here I am back in a cell.”
“I was crying the whole night. I could not eat. I had serious headache. I had to request for a paracetamol or anything. They said they couldn’t provide me any medications and I could not sleep the whole night. I didn’t sleep for 48 hours. I didn’t eat for 48 hours because I was so scared.”
Maiba, who was another interviewed asylum seeker, and they detailed the difficulties that trans people especially can face: “One officer said to me: ‘I noticed while we were going through your bags you have a lot of boxers and you have a lot of hats, you wear a lot of men’s clothing.”
“We’re here to protect you and when we go to Zimbabwe we don’t want you to draw attention to yourself. So we’re going to stop over in Kenya and we can maybe buy you some appropriate clothes in the airport before we leave for Zimbabwe. Maybe we can lose the boxers.”
“At that moment I said to him: ‘Do you know that this actually shows how corrupt your system is? You’ve just met me and you know that you can’t take me where you’re trying to take me while I am who I am. You’re trying to change me so that I don’t have difficulties!’”
Stonewall’s CEO Ruth Hunt touched on the findings of the report, which reveal that for LGBT asylum seekers in the UK, their experience can be hellish.
“This research contains deeply troubling findings and paints a distressing picture of life for LGBT people inside UK detention centres. Asylum seekers are seeking refuge from persecution and abuse but unfortunately, as this report shows, UK detention centres offer little respite. Without doubt, the way the asylum system deals with people who are persecuted for their sexual orientation and gender identity has improved since we released our 2010 report, No Going Back.”
“Yet there is still significant work for the Home Office to do to improve the lives and experiences of LGBT people, and to improve conditions in detention centres in general. To create this report we had to rely on the bravery of individuals who were willing to speak out and we are eternally grateful to them. They have shown true courage in sharing with us what are clearly upsetting memories and experiences in the hope that it will create change.”
It doesn’t just stop at the mistreatment described, unfortunately, as some LGBT asylum seekers can even be victim to punishment techniques and detention officers acting inappropriately toward them.
Achebe, a Nigerian asylum seeker, had this to say: “One of the officers said that we’re criminals. That it is his detention centre. That he’s British, and it’s his country. There was this night when they wanted to lock me in and I was like: ‘Officer, I have been asking for my medication, are you guys going to lock me up and not let me have any?’ I was just trying to understand what’s going to happen. And then he just pushed me. All I was asking for was my medication.”
Paul Dillane, executive director at UKLGIG, also touched on the very worrying results: “The UK has one of the largest detention estates in Europe and detains more migrants and asylum seekers than the vast majority of other countries. Shockingly, it is alone in detaining them indefinitely. In July 2015, the High Court found that the process was ‘systemically unfair and unlawful’. However, the UK Government has consistently stated its intention to introduce a new detained procedure.”
“The UK is a country that proudly seeks to promote human rights including those of LGBT people on the world stage yet it has for too long detained those who flee to our shores in search of sanctuary. In order to ensure LGBT refugees are respected and protected, the use of indefinite immigration detention must end.”
The conclusion of the Stonewall and UKLGIG report does say that they are pressing for the methods used to be changed, and to end the detention of LGBT asylum seekers as well as asking them to “develop and implement alternatives to detention as a matter of priority”.
It does seem that the Home Office is listening, however, but whether or not any changes of note are made remains to be seen.
The Home Office responded to the damning report to the Gay Times, saying:“We remain committed to improving the asylum process for those claiming asylum on the basis of their sexual orientation and decision-makers are provided with dedicated guidance and training on the management of such claims.”
“In September, the Government introduced the ‘adult at risk’ concept into decision-making on immigration detention with a clear presumption that vulnerable people who may be at risk of particular harm in detention should not be detained, building on the existing legal framework.”