Britain Is Failing Refugees, Migrants and LGBT Asylees In A Truly Remarkable Number of Ways

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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.

(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.

Migrant Resource Centre
Stop Charter Flights
Right to Remain
Detention Action
Women for Refugee Women
Freedom From Torture
Scottish Refugee Council

The Peter Tatchell Foundation deals directly with LGBT refugees, as does The UK Gay and Lesbian Immigration Group .

*these cases are anonymised for the safety of the individual refugee so unfortunately we can’t provide updates on their cases

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Siobhan has degrees in information management and medieval history making her lots of fun at parties. She's written for Dirge, Biscuit and Diva and is currently working on a book on the supernatural women of Ireland for Wolfenhowle Press (and if you want to help feed her while she works on it you can check out her patreon here.

Siobhan has written 34 articles for us.


  1. It is funny thing about America and the UK. The UK is the only country in Europe that doesn’t really put down America for our problems. The other countries might be better places to live and they will let you know about it. The UK is the only country that won’t knock America. And the reason I suspect isn’t because we are allies or that we saved the UK during the Great War. No it is simply this, if the UK started making fun of the US then it would definitely be the pot calling the kettle black.

    • You missed the nationwide protests about Trump then? The UK is very hypocritical about a plethora of things, please do make fun of us!

    • ‘saved the UK’….

      Honestly, you don’t truly believe that do you?!

      And Britain makes fun of America all the time. Because despite how determined we are to screw up our country, we at least have a national health service and don’t allow the everyday citizen to carry a gun…

      Back to the article. Incredibly interesting, and concerning.

      • Well, we did provide additional war materiel and food due to our larger and less vulnerable industrial and agricultural capacity, and did our part in Normandy etc. So we were of some use, even with a late entry. But Russia probably did the most to smash Hitler – huge reservoir of soldier-age men, huge capacity if not highest technology manufacturing, and plenty of will for revenge. Relative to Russia and the US, Germany and occupied Europe had insufficient quantities of soldiers, war materiel, raw material for manufacturing, food for soldiers and for civilian population.

        • You appear to have WW1 (The Great War) and WW2 mixed up.

          (but still, Russia was the deciding factor in Europe in WW2, plus I find concept of coming into a war a few years late, billing the UK billions for it, and then saying that the US ‘saved’ the UK to be, quite frankly, insulting.)

    • While it might not seem to the US that some (obviously we can’t say all) people in the UK don’t have criticisms about the US, there are indeed numbers of individuals in the UK that do!

      I know America has been held up as the beacon of freedom, hope, open arms and progression for a long time, but that idea shouldn’t be taken as universal entitlement just because one day the idea was created so. Maybe it’s more that some in the US couldn’t fathom the notion that other countries would see things differently to them from time to time and hence, more often than not, presume just on events of history that certain allies are therefore quiet, submissive or afraid to express because of it.

      The idea of the ‘special relationship’ might give the false impression that UK as a general whole will always stand by America and respect and look up to her, but that doesn’t really explain the inner thoughts of everyone all of the time concerning every changing situation, whether by those in power or those electing them to it.

      I think if you live in the UK you’d know folk here are not all so thankful to America for turning up fresh to a situation where others were already expended and tired or dead for it, that we can’t still express reservations about some of the things you do or some of the dialogue expressed. Lifelong gratitude shouldn’t ever be abused or take for granted by any country and not prevent holding a mirror up to it when it hasn’t been looking so graceful or heroic. The UK knows all too well that both it’s bloody history and good moments within it have to run alongside each other, no matter how much some would want to separate them and only publicize the shining events (yes, maybe hard for some to believe that Uk wasn’t totally oppressive and thuggish). Just because a person or place is good at one or more times in history, doesn’t mean it can be excused or submitted to just because later down the line the clothes, the message and the practice has the same title or flag flying.

      The the UK Government (as most over the decades do when speaking with a diplomatic tongue) don’t talk America down or insult it in any explicit sense, nor in general routine, as that would be foolish to do so on a world stage, esp if at regular occurrence. Alliances always have to attempt to balance their views, praise and criticism, but that representative face/tone doesn’t necessarily mean that all citizens being spoken for entirely share/applaud it. Also it differs depending on the government in power too. Our European neighbours might seem more vocal, but that may speak more to whether their figureheads have a natural sway with present America ones. Teresa May and her Tories are in degree, the Brit equiv to Trump and the Republicans. They obviously are different individuals and the parties not completely the same, but they’re on the same side of each more than say other combinations of Prime Ministers and Presidents have been. All these things can make some difference to the view vs the reality and how that’s played out.

      Have to remember, America is a much more powerful, so other countries aren’t always in the equal position to square up. And again, it all depends on the situation/event being discussed, agreed upon or fought over. While this government (and past ones) have sometimes choosen carefully their political discourse to express to America, that doesn’t mean that discussions back home by political figures or members of the public are the same or strike the same tones. Maybe for whatever reason our vocal media (one of the most arrogant and intrusive in the world) and some of their very critical analysis isn’t reaching you, but it exists? Plenty of politicians can obviously make blunders which, even if swept under the carpet or spun around, can still show occasions when individuals forget to regulate the true feelings on people and matters.

      There has been lots of debate about Trump in the UK and plenty, even some on the right side of politics – public and politicians, do not like him, nor think he’s a good character for President of any country let alone the most powerful one in the world. Of course I have to say, for balance, that there are those that like him too, and not all necessarily Brexiteers. But there is this line by some representatives in power of… “I don’t like the guy, wouldn’t back him myself…BUT he’s the leader of the USA elected by the citizens (and perhaps some Russians too) and should be afforded some respec…blah blah” in the name of peaceful relations. It’s the typical, I feel this way but have to act accordingly despite it, perhaps for the greater end goal, or jst the present fear of losing immediate power, a job or pride. It’s a balancing game of words in a sometimes complex political game.

      As for the article, I share the sentiment of the disappointment of how issues closer to home (for me and our UK citizens) is playing out. Lots of countries go through identity crisis at times, but ours regarding Brexit and now the Scottish Indy Ref is a sad one, and it has unfortunately lended itself to the resurfacing of rhetoric which some (hopefully most) had hoped was predominantly a thing of the past. Out of the dark, people that would be too wary to say certain things have been emboldned by Brexit, and even though they aren’t necessarily the majority, they have been the loudest and proudest and excusing what they spout as patriotism. Trump and what has happened in the US is an over the pond similarity (but for a bigger place). LGBT has in fight too, which makes the struggle for visibility, respect and help outside of the community an added struggle. Even though things are better, rights and equality (in education as well as other things) still has it’s way to go, and can we rely on Teresa and to fully act in our interests.

      It feels like compassion for fellow humans has gone begging in these recent times, and with a Tory government ruling the roost and a weak opposition handing them their own feathers to build the governing nest, we unfortunately only have more of it to come. Refugees and immigrants have the good will of decent folk in the UK (which believe it or not do exist in some number despite Brexit), but there is only so much individuals not in power can do to help or show they care. Taking in more refugees, ensuring the rights of EU citizens, putting back money and structure to places that help communities, groups and individuals (or the nation at large like the NHS) and maintaining members that keep them ticking is something that can only sufficiently/realistically change/be maintained if the present political setup changes. Citizens can play their part ringing up, writing to or protesting about etc, but until the foundations of our highest ruling powers can be reshuffled, then appeals will fall on some deaf ears. That is of course not to say public or political voices and actions should stop, they should absolutely keep plugging away in the meantime!!, but when we a next time to vote on the powers that control all of these things, we should bl**dy seize it.

  2. This is a great article, and I cannot stress how much getting involved really makes a difference! I’m a member of an LGBT choir, and we have a few members who are asylum seekers. They’re constantly at risk of deportation, often detained at short notice, and when it happens we start petitions, contact MPs, the Home Office etc. and IT WORKS. The Home Office does not want attention drawn to its tactics, and if you do draw attention to it, they would rather it all go away quickly – especially because legally, they don’t have a leg to stand on.

    Several of our members have received leave to remain, and having a network of people supporting them has undoubtedly helped with that process.

  3. This is a great article. It’s wonderful that you give us directions on how to start the change and what to do about the problem

  4. I feel more and more ashamed to be British with every day that passes. But thanks for this article, it’s so important to keep highlighting what’s happening.

    Sidenote, it’s great to see more articles focused on the UK here recently! I mentioned in the survey that I would love to see more of that. Thanks Autostraddle! :-)

  5. protect him from persecution. In effect, therefore, the tribunal was simply saying that his application should be rejected because, on return, he could take steps to avoid persecution by conducting himself discreetly. For the reasons which I have given, that approach is inconsistent with the very aims of the Convention.”

    I dread to think how many people will be sent back before the government has to change this policy due to challenge in the courts.

    Thank you for this article.

  6. I dread to think how many people will be sent back to Afghanistan before the government has to change this policy due to challenge in the courts. The guidance on Afghnaistan is the opposite of the HJ Iran decision in 2010 in the UK Supreme Court. The UK government shows no respect for the law either domestically or internationally on a truly frightening rate.

    Thank you for this article.

  7. Thank you so much for pulling all of this together Siobhan. We need these coherent articles that cover the UK’s dismal policy on asylum/immigration, and the LGBTQ angle.

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