Plans to deem India and Georgia ‘safe’ countries to send people seeking asylum in the UK to are being fiercely criticised by migration organisations.
Late last year, the government announced its intention to update the ‘safe states’ list in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 in order “to speed up the process of returning people who have travelled from either country illegally.”
Suella Braverman, who was Home Secretary at the time, said this was part of delivering on the highly controversial Illegal Migration Act, which makes it possible for those entering the country via “illegal” routes – such as by crossing the Channel in small boats – to be detained and removed.
“We must stop people making dangerous and illegal journeys to the UK from fundamentally safe countries,” she said in November. “Expanding this list will allow us to more swiftly remove people with no right to be here and sends a clear message that if you come here illegally, you cannot stay.”
Ahead of MPs debating the proposed changes on 10 January, Rainbow Migration, a charity that provides practical and emotional support to LGBTQIA+ people seeking asylum, has highlighted that plans to send people seeking asylum to India and Georgia fail to consider the safety of those who are queer.
“Singling out people by nationality is dangerous,” a spokesperson told GAY TIMES.
“Everyone should have the right to seek safety here if they need it, no matter where they come from.
“Imagine experiencing violence for being LGBTQI+ in your home country and fleeing to the UK hoping to find safety, only to be told that your country is deemed safe for everyone and you’ll be sent straight back. It’s utterly cruel.
“Most of us would welcome LGBTQI+ people who can’t be themselves in other countries and are hoping to rebuild their lives in the UK. They should be welcomed and supported to live safely here, regardless of their country of origin.”
The government’s own travel advice includes warnings for LGBTQIA+ people visiting Georgia and India
‘Safe’ countries currently listed under section 80AA of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 include Spain, Switzerland, Iceland, Republic of Ireland, France, Germany and Denmark, among others.
Under the proposed changes, the charity fears that people who may qualify for refugee status from Georgia or India may never have their protection claims considered in the UK – meaning they could be sent back to their respective countries where they could face persecution.
The government’s own travel advice states that “Indian society remains conservative” which “includes attitudes to LGBT+ people, which can be less accepting than in the UK.”
It goes as far as acknowledging that there is “risk of harassment and discrimination, especially outside of big cities.”
When it comes to Georgia, the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) warns that “LGBT+ people may face discrimination” there and that – despite homosexuality being legal – “same-sex relationships are still not widely accepted”.
“Showing affection in public may result in discrimination or harassment,” it says. “Homophobic harassment and assault take place.”
Rainbow Migration works with LGBTQIA+ people who have fled persecution
In 2023, Rainbow Migration supported Noah, a gay man who fled Georgia as a result of homophobic persecution.
He had been physically attacked by family members, forced to stay in a hospital for people suffering with mental illnesses and even had an exorcism performed on him at a church.
Despite this, as well as the attack of his partner, he did not feel protected by authorities in the region.
“Georgia cannot be considered a safe country,” he told GAY TIMES after learning of the UK government’s plans to deem it a ‘safe’ country to send asylum seekers to.
“They don’t know what is going on in Georgia, how the LGBT people are living there, they cannot understand. Because Georgia is now trying to join the EU, they show only the beautiful things, but it’s not good. Gay people are killed, trans people are killed.
“The last time that Pride took place, the television operator was killed. Who will come and say Georgia is a safe country after that? If you’re gay your two options are either hospital or exorcism.”
“Both these measures are cruel, unusual [and] unjustified”
Asylum statistics from the Home Office show that, from April 2022 to March 2023, 17 Indian nationals were granted refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK, while 14 people from Georgia were given asylum in the country.
In that same period, 1,391 Georgians attempted to claim asylum (as the main applicant) in the UK, while 4,403 attempted to from India.
Zoe Bantleman, Legal Director of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA), a professional association of lawyers and academics practising in or concerned about immigration, asylum and nationality law, said: “Under these reprehensible regulations, Indian and Georgian refugees could be forced to return to India and Georgia, without their asylum and human rights claims even being considered and without our courts being able to prevent this violation of international law.
“The Regulations would also introduce an unprecedented near-blanket ban on consideration of applications from all Indian and Georgian nationals who are seeking to extend their stay or enter the UK on the basis of human rights. This includes human rights claims based on family unity, made by law-abiding Georgian or Indian nationals with families in the UK, which Home Office statistics demonstrate are overwhelmingly well-founded.
“Both these measures are cruel, unusual, unjustified, and place the United Kingdom at risk of breaching its international legal obligations and further damaging its reputation as a champion of the rule of law and human rights.”
“A thorough assessment of India and Georgia was carried out,” says Home Office
A spokesperson for the Home Office told GAY TIMES that it “must stop people making dangerous and illegal journeys to the UK from fundamentally safe countries.”
“A thorough assessment of India and Georgia was carried out when deciding to add them to the safe countries list,” they continued.
“Expanding the list will allow us to more swiftly remove people with no right to be here to their countries of origin, unless to do so would be unsafe in their particular circumstances. It sends a clear message that if you come here illegally, you cannot stay.”
Rainbow Migration has created a tool that allows people to write to their local MP calling on them to speak during the upcoming debate and vote against the regulation becoming law, which you can access here.