LGBT Refugees: Abuse Uncovered in Asylum Centres

Stonewall UK and UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG) have uncovered some shocking truths from refugees fleeing to the UK in a report called No Safe Refugee . A large majority of asylum seekers in the UK are those from the LGBT community who face violence, abuse, rape, torture and even death in their countries. This is something that has made me so proud to be British, because despite a small amount of gay-bashers in the UK, as a whole we are very inclusive and accepting of sexual orientation and gender. However, I seem to have been under the illusion that the UK is a safe place for those who are being persecuted for their sexuality or gender identity. Researchers carried out interviews with 22 LGBT asylum seekers, who’ve been held in UK detention centres, asking about their experiences with staff and other asylum seekers, their physical and emotional well-being in detention, and access to legal and health services.

We will always meet someone or hear of someone who is a bigot – someone who makes you feel uncomfortable because of their backwards views – but I had no idea that the centres (which are made specifically for those who are desperate for a safe place) would contain these stupid, uneducated people too. The report uncovered frequent incidents of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, and some violent incidents. Also, some asylum seekers were denied vital medication for HIV, and transgender detainees were banned from taking hormones.

Vani, a transgender asylum seeker from India said:

They didn’t provide me with any kind of medicine. I have to take regular cycle of hormones. I normally get hormonal implants. Then in detention they told me I can’t have any kind of hormones. If I don’t have the hormones I get hot flushes and all those hormonal imbalance things. I get like blisters, get depressed, get anxiety and all sorts of stuff.

How does this happen? The UK is so lucky to have a fantastic free healthcare service alongside a ‘good’ (I say that with hesitation, as I know there are a lot of concerns from trans* people when it comes to their treatment under the NHS) understanding of medical services and advice for LGBT patients.

Not only were vital medications confiscated from the refugees, others told of shocking instances of homophobia at every level of the system – from guards, other detainees, interpreters and even legal representatives.

Sathi, from Sri Lanka said:

He asked me if I am speaking with my parents. I said no because they are not happy with me because of my sexuality. He then told me that ‘if you are not happy with your parents then God isn’t going to be happy with you. So make your parents happy and go back’. It means leave my sexuality and just make them happy.

Why is this important? Why should we care about what happens in other countries – shouldn’t we focus on our own? Well, I’m proud to live in such a multicultural and diverse society, and when I saw a group of LGBT asylum seekers strut down the street at the Pride Parade this year, I felt incredibly overwhelmed with emotion because I knew that they had to give up their families and lives to live authentically in this wonderful city. I care because I’m privileged – I’m a white, middle-class woman from London who has never suffered any discrimination or violence (other than for simply being a woman, of course), so if I can’t take advantage of how lucky I am by trying to help others who aren’t as lucky, what’s the point of my existence? It takes some serious guts to start an entirely new life in a different country, but most refugees have no other choice. Often, death is the only solution if they stay in their homeland, but Brianna from Jamaica managed to escape, and told the reporters that back home:

I have been shot, I have been raped, I have been beaten. I just got fed up because Jamaica is a very homophobic place. They don’t tolerate LGBT people. You have to live a life of lies.

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I’m hoping this public report allows further investigations from the Home Office as it is simply not acceptable that asylum seekers are not protected by the detention centre staff. Many say they felt they have to hide their sexuality to avoid abuse, which is the exact reason they fled in the first place! The UK has one of the largest detention estates in Europe, where it detains more migrants and asylum seekers than most other countries, which is so fantastic… but this isn’t the first time there have been concerns about the welfare of refugees. In July 2015, the High Court found that the detention process was “systematically unfair and unlawful”. Umm… So why is it still happening?!

A Ugandan asylum seeker said :

It felt like I was betrayed because if somebody seeks asylum, they’re just trying to get some protection, but then you’re detaining them. It’s like you’re putting them in prison for having come to you for help. It didn’t make sense to me.

Seeking asylum is a right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is not a crime, and those looking for help should not be treated like criminals. We should be accepting those who are trying to live authentically, but unfortunately the reports clearly show that UK detention centres offer little respite.

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