OPINION: Britain must make the asylum process easier for LGBT+ people

by Philip Baldwin | Activist
Sunday, 20 June 2021 07:00 GMT

Ugandan refugees Ninshaba Erigalda, Shamim and Nabaterega Winnie, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, pose for a photograph inside their shelter at the Kakuma refugee camp, in Turkana county, northwest of Nairobi, Kenya February 22, 2020. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The UK government seems set on creating an asylum system that will lead to many LGBT+ refugees not getting protection

Philip Baldwin is an LGBT+ activist and writer

World Refugee Day is marked annually on 20 June. The past 16 months have been tough in the UK and globally, with coronavirus at the forefront of our minds. This period has also seen a dramatic shift in the way the UK government is proposing to deal with asylum claimants, particularly impacting LGBT+ claimants.

On World Refugee Day 2019, I called for a 28-day detention limit for asylum claimants held in the UK’s 11 detention centres. That debate has now completely changed. The proposed Sovereign Borders Bill will dismantle the asylum framework as we know it, making an asylum process that many perceived as already rigged against refugees even more unfair.

The Sovereign Borders Bill is anticipated to be brought before parliament as early as this month. A coalition of charities and organisation working in this area and beyond – Together with Refugees – released a statement at the end of April.

The statement highlighted some of the many problems with the consultation on the Sovereign Borders Bill. The consultation lasted less than six weeks, instead of the usual 12. It took place in the period running up to the May elections, meaning that many local authorities were unable to respond. There was not a single question within the consultation that asked for the personal experiences of refugees or those fleeing persecution. Moreover, the questions and consultation documents were only available in English or Welsh.

Rather than seeking the opinions of groups working with asylum claimants, the Home Office created a targeted social media campaign aimed at those critical of migration. A legal challenge was announced last week into how the consultation was conducted.

The government is proposing to force asylum claimants to live in reception centres, which could be outside of the UK, while their claims are processed. The situation will be extremely challenging for LGBT+ asylum claimants, who are already more likely to experience violence or sexual harassment. Reception centres as a form of institutional accommodation for large numbers of people would be fertile ground for hatred of LGBT+ people to run rampant. It would be an environment for LGBT+ people reminiscent of that which they have fled.

A new fast-track appeals process is also being discussed, which would limit the ability for asylum claimants to appeal. This is very dangerous for LGBT+ people, whose asylum claims are often successful on appeal. In 2019, approximately 44 per cent of these appeals were successful. LGBT+ people require additional time to gather evidence, as it would be counter-intuitive for a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender asylum claimant to bring an abundance of material corroborating their sexual orientation or gender identity, if that very material could incriminate them in the country they are fleeing from.

It could also become more difficult for an asylum claimant to add new reasons for their claim, which again disproportionately impacts LGBT+ people. Many LGBT+ asylum claimants are unaware, when they first seek asylum in the UK, that they can do so on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The UK government seems set on creating an asylum system that will result in many LGBT+ refugees not getting the protection they deserve. There are many things you can do to help, from writing to your elected representatives to donating, if your circumstances allow, to organisations such as Rainbow Migration.

June is also Pride Month and if you are attending any Pride events this month or over the summer, please consider taking the opportunity to protest for LGBT+ asylum claimants and express your solidarity publicly.

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