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In the second half of 2022 and especially at Pride events, I would have interesting conversations around LGBTQ+ asylum. I encountered much empathy, but even speaking to other LGBTQ+ people, I also came across misinformation and the unintentional prejudice this can cause. 

It’s not that people have fallen for the government’s xenophobic hyperbole around asylum claimants, but there is often confusion around the key issues. We hear a lot from the government about small boat crossings in the English Channel and the Rwanda deportation scheme and very little about the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ people seeking asylum in the UK.

The threat posed by Rwanda for LGBTQ+ people is becoming increasingly apparent. The High Court ruled the plan lawful in December. Rwanda has serious issues surrounding protections for LGBTQ+ people. A survey released at the end of January by Care4Calais, includes that three LGBTQ+ refugees have received notices of intent for deportation to Rwanda. There are still a number of processes which need to take place before these deportations can actually take place, although we cannot be complacent.

A charity I’ve supported since 2015 is Rainbow Migration, who help LGBTQ+ people claiming asylum in the UK. They have a very clear campaign which LGBTQ+ people can rally around, calling for a 28-day time limit on all immigration detention and that no LGBTQ+ people should be held in detention. No other European country holds asylum claimants indefinitely. The UK really is an outlier here and that this has been allowed to continue demonstrates how polarised the discussion around asylum has been for a long time.

At the end of 2016 the government did recognise trans and intersex people as “particularly vulnerable to harm in detention” although there have been some instances of trans and intersex people being detained regardless. Since then, campaigners have been vocal that all LGBTQ+ people need to be protected. This has been raised by numerous Parliamentarians, as well as charities, but the Home Secretaries in the intervening period have failed to act.

Photo courtesy of Rainbow Migration

It is against this backdrop that the University of Brighton, with the support of Rainbow Migration, has released an exciting new report to coincide with LGBT+ History Month. The report focuses on the experience of LGBTQ+ people in detention. I encourage GAY TIMES readers to review the report, which includes powerful personal testimony.

It is clear that there is a real tension in terms of LGBTQ+ people being out in terms of their sexuality and gender identity, staying safe in detention, which for many means concealing this and then persuading the Home Office that they meet the LGBTQ+ requirement for asylum. Understandably, with the threat of violence and harassment from both other people held in detention and by detention centre staff it is hard for people to be out in detention. Some do find networks within detention, but it is hard for them to even speak to their legal representatives, charities or family.

Asylum claimants held in detention are not allowed on social media, usually have their smartphones with internet access confiscated and have to book slots to use the internet in communal areas. We hear very little about the experiences of asylum claimants in detention and anything we can do to shine a light on this is important.

Understandably, many LGBTQ+ people seeking asylum are retraumatised by their experiences of asylum detention, facing situations similar to what they encountered in the countries they’re fleeing from. Many leave with mental health problems following detention. No one should have to face this ordeal.

This LGBT+ History Month I encourage you to take action by supporting Rainbow Migration’s No Pride in Detention campaign.

Leila Zedah, Executive Director, Rainbow Migration, emphasises that:

“It’s been disheartening but not surprising to find that detention centres continue to be such dangerous places for LGBTQI+ people. People come here to claim asylum hoping they will be safe, and then they are put in detention and treated so poorly. We call on this government to end the detention of all LGBTQI+ people.”