In this piece, Bel Govier (Co-President of Warwick STAR) explores the harmful and dehumanising impact of the UK asylum system on LGBTQ+ people. 

Jackie had her case rejected by the Home Office in November 2012, even though she had been living openly as a lesbian in the UK for over 7 years. She was held at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Detention Centre and struggled against the British border removal agents on the day of her deportation, resulting in her being beaten and half-strangled by four agents. When she arrived back in Uganda, the medical centre turned her away due to her sexuality, and she died two months later from the injuries she sustained on the day of her deportation. 

Although the UK sells its image as a righteous defender of human rights, its abusive asylum system exposes its all-humans-are-equal-but-some-are-more-equal-than-others core principles. The UK is the only country in Europe that has indefinite immigration detention, and it uses this constant threat of detention and deportation to create a “well-behaved deportee” who should comply with their own deportation. In reality, most people who are detained for over 28 days are not deported, leaving instead mental health deterioration as the consequence of their detention when they are released back into the community; in 2019, there were two suicide attempts every day in immigration detention. 

Queer people are especially vulnerable in immigration detention, as they have been found to experience acts of discrimination, harassment and violence perpetrated by other detainees and the staff. Dembe, a Ugandan asylum seeker, for example, expressed that when they were having a mental breakdown, they reached out to a mental health nurse at the detention centre, who told them to “go read a bible.” 

Concern about the hidden abuse of queer people in detention was raised by the cross-parliamentary Detention Inquiry Group in 2015, and yet LGBQI+ people are still kept in immigration detention. In addition to re-traumatising people who have often fled persecution due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, this means that many queer people in detention have to choose between experiencing constant discrimination and abuse from their peers and staff, or staying in the closet and isolating themselves to stay safe. 

In these circumstances, people claiming asylum on the grounds of sexual orientation and/or gender identity, who are required to prove that they are queer in addition to demonstrating that they were persecuted in their home country, are always at risk of being discovered and therefore unable to collect this essential ‘proof of gayness’. The evidence expected by the Home Office is dependent on Western conceptions of queerness, requiring people to, for example, frequent British LGBTQ+ spaces where they are not always welcome or “name three gay bars in Manchester”. 

This country, which is supposedly a promoter of human rights, a safe haven for the LGBTQI+ community, is picking which queer people they find most deserving of this protection, a group which does not include asylum seekers. The treatment received by queer people like Jackie and Dembe in detention is a clear example of the dehumanising nature of the British asylum system.

If you would like overall immigration detention time to be capped at 28 days and to end queer detention, sign this petition by RAINBOW MIGRATION!


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