LGBTQ+ asylum claimants have long faced challenges in the UK, from having to prove their sexuality or gender identify to Home Office officials, to facing sexual harassment and violence in detention centres. These claimants are amongst the most vulnerable in our society and we must shout as loudly as possible on their behalf.

In 2019, it was a privilege to take part in the campaign calling for a maximum 28-day detention limit for asylum claimants. Rainbow Migration organised a great initiative with 28 celebrities and influencers. The campaign focused on recording messages from asylum claimants going through the process. I spoke on behalf of Mukasa, a Ugandan asylum claimant. He is, like me, living with HIV. His powerful testimony reflected the horrific challenges he faced both in Uganda and was now having to deal with as a consequence of the Home Office in the UK.

Over the past two years the situation has become significantly more challenging for LGBTQ+ asylum claimants. The government, after a very short consultation in the spring of this year – less than six weeks instead of the usual 12-week process – is looking to introduce measures which will make the already complicated and arduous asylum process even more difficult.

The government wants to house people in reception centres, potentially overseas, while their asylum claim is processed. There are multiple issues here; for example, asylum claimants could be housed in countries where they have no cultural or religious ties, do not speak the language and cannot access education.

For LGBTQ+ claimants, there is the threat that they could be housed
in countries where lesbophobic, homophobic, biphobic or transphobic views are widespread, or even where anti-LGBTQ+ legislation exists. It is already very difficult for LGBTQ+ asylum claimants to be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity when they are housed with other asylum claimants. This is a paradox which runs to the core of why LGBTQ+ asylum claimants shouldn’t be held in detention at all, in that many are forced back in the closet while trying to provide evidence that they are LGBTQ+ to Home Office officials.

The government also wishes to create a fast-track appeals process and curtail the right to challenge decisions. Again, this will have a particularly harsh impact on LGBTQ+ asylum claimants. Upon arrival in the UK, it can be a while until LGBTQ+ asylum claimants feel comfortable disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity to Home Office officials, when they have lived in fear of government officials in the country they are fleeing from. An LGBTQ+ asylum claimant may not even be aware that they can claim asylum in the UK because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

A further additional challenge that the government wants to introduce is that all evidence should be submitted at the beginning of the asylum process. The government intends to instruct judges to give “minimal weight” to evidence raised later. When an LGBTQ+ asylum claimant is fleeing a country where anti-LGBTQ+ laws exist, it would be utterly counter-intuitive to collect lots of material which could incriminate you. It is therefore, in my view, completely ridiculous for the Home Office to
ask LGBTQ+ asylum claimants to provide this at the start of their claim. LGBTQ+ asylum claimants should be allowed to gather material while their claim is processed in the UK and this should be given equal weight in any decision.

Overall, rather than seeking to apply rules fairly to LGBTQ+ asylum claimants, the government is merely looking for any reason not to give refugees the protection they need and are entitled to under international law.

Support LGBTQ+ asylum claimants: rainbowmigration.org.uk

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