Luke Pollard has called on the UK government to not turn its back on LGBTQ+ asylum seekers fleeing persecution in its new Illegal Migration Bill.
The new legislation was announced as a way of tackling small boat crossings in the Channel, which Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, has acknowledged has a 50% chance of being incompatible with human convention rights.
The legislation will allow illegal arrivals to be detained without bail or judicial review for 28 days until they can be removed.
Parliament will also determine an annual cap on the number of refugees the UK will resettle via “safe and legal routes”.
During the ministerial statement on 7 March, Pollard, Plymouth’s first openly gay MP and the current Shadow Armed Forces Minister, raised the importance of ensuring any legislation does not negatively impact LGBTQ+ asylum seekers – many of which have fled their home countries as a result of persecution there.
“Britain is and should remain a beacon for LGBT rights,” he told Braverman. “So, can I ask the Home Secretary a particular question about LGBT asylum seekers who are coming to the UK fleeing persecution because of their sexuality and who they love and who they are, who don’t come from a country where there is an existing safe route.”
He proceeded to question whether or not they will be deported back to the country where they face abuse, or sent to Rwanda under the government’s highly controversial asylum plan.
The new Tory plan to attack migrants is not only unworkable, it's wrong and won't actually stop small boats.
— Luke Pollard MP (@LukePollard) March 7, 2023
Pollard then referenced its own foreign travel advice, which recognises the “discrimination and abuse” LGBTQ+ people often face there – including “from local authorities”.
He continued: “Can the Home Secretary reassure a gay MP here like myself that we’re not turning our back on LGBT asylum seekers who are fleeing appalling abuse simply for being themselves?”
Braverman “gently” claimed that the “fundamental objective” of the legislation “is to stop people leaving safe countries to come to the United Kingdom and claim asylum.”
“That is the fundamental principle running through our international obligations, whether it’s the Refugee Convention or other conventions,” she added. “If people are coming here from a safe country, they really shouldn’t be claiming asylum in the first place.”
At no point in her answer did Braverman directly address Pollard’s concerns about LGBTQ+ asylum seekers who may face persecution if they are not able to stay in the UK.
LGBTQ+ people at risk of ‘serious harm’ in immigration detention, study finds
It comes just weeks after a study from the University of Brighton, which was supported by Rainbow Migration, a charity which provides practical and emotional support for LGBTQ+ people seeking asylum, found that LGBTQ+ people are facing harassment, bullying and deteriorating mental health while being held in the UK’s immigration detention system.
Participants reported being subjected to verbal and physical homophobic abuse from other people held in detention, some of which came from people they were forced to share locked rooms with at night.
One said that someone “spat on my face for being a gay.”
Many were scared of sharing their true gender identity and/or sexual orientation (three of the participants were gay men and two were non-binary) while in detention.