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We may not be building literal walls here in the UK, but just because we’re shoving people out of the country in a less flashy way doesn’t make us any less xenophobic. We’re utterly failing refugees, including those most vulnerable, while simultaneously expelling people who have lived here their whole lives, who have families here and nothing to go back to when we force them onto planes. In some cases, we’re doing both at the same time. For instance, there’s this story from Detained Voices about a bisexual asylum seeker who came here as a teenager with his mum; he writes about how he college here, built a life here, only to be scheduled for deportation to Nigeria because the Home Office didn’t believe he was really queer.*
Britain talks a big game when it comes to refugees. If you’ve ever read the Daily Not-A-Source-According-To-Wikipedia or any of its friends then you’d know that we take the most out of any country in the whole wide world, but that is, frankly, a load of bullshit. We actually take a disproportionately small number of refugees and unlike the other low performing countries we don’t have any of the mitigating factors going for us to explain it. We’re not right on the edge of the conflict zone or in economic meltdown. We’re just really determined to keep people out.
We’re also, just by the way, officially the worst country in Western Europe to seek asylum in. We don’t even let asylum seekers volunteer while they’re waiting to have their claims processed, but that’s not going to stop us whining about the supposed drain they are on our society.
— Connor Beaton (@zcbeaton) June 16, 2016
(For those who don’t know, Nigel Farage is an actual elected official here)
Nothing represents our callous attitude towards the rest of the world so much as our about turn on the Dubs amendment. Named after its sponsor, a man who owes his survival to the kindertransport (which, let me remind you, only existed as it was because we weren’t willing to take in their parents as well) it would have brought in 3000 refugee children who have become separated from their families in Europe, and as a result are living in some of the most horrifying danger imaginable. We’ve shut it down after settling only 350 of them, using in part the ludicrous justification that if we don’t it will only encourage other families to send their children off through Europe alone. On top of that though, as always, is the belief that we shouldn’t have to take responsibility for them, that everything is always Someone Else’s Problem and never Britain’s. For instance, here’s MP Pauline Latham, reminding us to stop being “sentimental”:
“If we are talking about Greece and it being rat infested with no mattresses, whose fault is that? That is Greece’s fault. It should be helping those children.”
In a desperate attempt to salvage some of it, a cross party alliance of MP’s tried to amend the Children and Social Work Bill, so that local councils would have to give annual reports as to whether they had the resources to take any of those children. An overwhelmingly (287 of 290) Tory majority voted it down, despite the fact that some local councils have apparently expressed positive interest in it. This shouldn’t be surprising, unfortunately; after all, we’ve been refusing to settle families with disabled children since January on the grounds that taking care of them is just too hard. Also blocking able-bodied children from reaching sanctuary here is just the next stage in a natural progression as we work our way up from those seen as the most disposable to just flat out refusing everyone asylum.
In 2015, we promised to prioritise the LGBT refugees coming out of Syria. Envisioning this would suggest that immigration officers receive training on LGBT issues, leaving them better equipped to understand the issues facing LGBT people and what their lives are actually like across the board. Yet in November a bisexual Pakistani man* was deported because when asked what the T in LGBT stood for he answered “trans” instead of the full “transgender” and this was apparently “incorrect.” Because now that we’re not allowed to demand photographic proof anymore (c. 2015, two whole years after we promised we’d stop) we apparently determine people’s sexuality through some sort of LGBT spelling test. One, I might add, that the LGBT community apparently don’t get to set the standards for, as trans is a perfectly acceptable alternative and one frequently in use at the sort of events they claimed he could not have attended based on his answer.
The standards we require LGBT refugees to live up to to prove their sexuality are ludicrous in general. Never mind trauma, language barriers or the issue that we only provide them with seven pounds a day to live on, we expect them to burst out and conquer the local LGBT scene. We expect them to know more about LGBT issues across the acronym than many homegrown cis queers ever manage. We expect them to go clubbing, buy queer magazines and find a same gender partner with ease. If they don’t, or if, like Aderonke Apata, they have children, or a history of different-gendered relationships, they’re presumed to be liars, benefit stealers and economic migrants. Of course, if they do live up to all of this then they can’t possibly have suffered very much in the past, and are probably also liars, according to our government.
Most recently, there is the Home Office’s decision that, even though it remains illegal to engage in queer sexual expression in Afghanistan, the lack of recent prosecutions means that it’s safe to deport LGBT Afghanis because they can just stay in the closet. Never mind that this decision is based only on the lack of official prosecution and completely disregards the danger queer Afghanis face. Never mind as well that the UN considers refusing refugee claims on those grounds to be a form of LGBT persecution in and of itself, or that our own policy c. 2010 was not to deny asylum for that reason.
Then of course, there are the charter flights. Mentioned by Heather in her article about queer solidarity with migrants, these things are used because too many passengers have objected in the past on commercial flights, delaying or preventing deportations. These flights, which have been compared to slave ships and described as treating the refugees like cargo, allow the government to deport these people more efficiently. Out of sight and out of mind. In February at least one LGBT asylum seeker was deported this way and another’s removal was only stayed at the last minute when a lawyer – who found out about him on social media — managed to prove that his deportation was illegal because he hadn’t even been given his interview.
We’re also continuing to house LGBT refugees in detention facilities that don’t provide proper protection from homophobic and transphobic abuse or access to HIV and other medications, or at least we were in October last year when this report was released. It is theoretically possible things have drastically improved since then but I doubt it.
It’s not just LGBT refugees being held or housed in inappropriate conditions either. Despite it being against official policy, victims of torture are still being held in detention centres. When housed in the community the accommodation is frequently not just substandard, but unfit, and women have allegedly been obliquely threatened with having their children removed (“put on the at risk register”) if they complain. Once asylum has been granted, the meagre benefits received during the period where their claims were being processed all stop and they are given 28 days to find new accommodation. As it usually takes longer than that to either find a job or process a new benefits claim of the kind they are now entitled to refugees either end up relying on charity or homeless.
So the question is, what can we do about this as individuals? Make as much of a fuss as you can. Never underestimate the power of public shaming to motivate a politician, or their desire to appease you so that you’ll go away. This link here provides a guide for contacting your MP’s not just by email but on social media as well. So go ahead and tweet them your feelings. Regularly.
Here’s a list of MPs who voted to keep vulnerable children out of the UK and away from safety if you’d like to start there. There’s also a petition to reinstate the Dubs amendment and let those children come here after all. There’s a debate in Parliament today, Tuesday March 14, on the detention of vulnerable persons at 2:30 pm — please get in touch with your MP and let them know your thoughts!
This is a petition to get the Home Office to reverse its decision on LGBT Afghans. All of the following groups work to help refugees in this country, whether that’s supporting them in detention centres or helping prevent their removal, and contacting them to find out what you can individually do is a good place to start.
*these cases are anonymised for the safety of the individual refugee so unfortunately we can’t provide updates on their cases