‘You look like a f**king gay’ LGBT asylum seekers tell their shocking stories
A report has shed light on the experiences of LGBT asylum seekers within UK detention centres.
In a joint report published today, LGBT charity Stonewall and the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG) investigated the experiences of those who have been forced to seek asylum due to persecution for their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Researchers carried out in-depth interviews with 22 LGBT asylum seekers who were forced to flee their homelands, often because of their sexuality or gender identity. The detainees, who have been held in UK detention centres – were asked about their past, their experiences with staff and other asylum seekers, their physical and emotional well-being in detention, and access to legal and health services.
The report exposed many lapses in standards, with staff often ill-equipped to deal with LGBT people, frequent incidents of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, and some violent incidents.
The report also found that some asylum seekers had been denied vital medication for HIV, while transgender detainees were banned from taking hormones.
HIV-positive Ugandan Asylum seeker Kamali reported: “If your medication runs out, like for me my HIV medication, I have to wait for three weeks.”
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.”
“Confiscating medication can have additional consequences for trans people. Taking away their medication without offering alternative treatment can lead to physical disruption and severe mental distress. The medical staff is really bad.”
Others recounted shocking instances of homophobia at every level of the system – from guards, other detainees, interpreters and even legal representatives.
Zimbabwean detainee Maiba recalled an incident where officials tried to enforce a no-homosexuality rule, explaining: “The officer didn’t approach the heterosexual couple, she approached the lesbian couple straight away.
“She didn’t even say to them excuse me. She said: ‘There are different religions in here and different cultures in here I ask you to respect that and there are also children in here’.
Sathi, from Sri Lanka, recalled an incident with a chaplain, explaining: “The chaplain said to ‘stop doing this nonsense and go back’.
“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.
“The Home Office talks about my country, but I am having the same problems in their detention centre. They control their staff, but I am still
Hussain, an asylum seeker from Pakistan, recalled: “Another detainee pushed me and he abused me. He said you look like a f**king gay… I told the officers but they didn’t take it seriously. They said: ’You just stay away from him. He is not a nice guy’.
The asylum seekers also opened up about the horrific treatment in their home countries that led them to flee
Brianna from Jamaica said: “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.”
Russian asylum seeker Andrei said: “I got attacked several times. My ex-boyfriend got attacked several times. One of my friends was killed, as a result of the so called ‘Grindr attacks’.
“He was in Moscow and there was a group of guys, who got with gay guys on Grindr, and they would come to their place and they would kill them.
“All over Russia, all of a sudden, it was like a new wave of homophobia. All those people being killed and raped.”
Gasha from Cameroon recalled: “I was being beaten because I was with a woman. They almost killed me. ‘This is against the law!
“Why are you into women? There are so many men out there! Why can’t you just be with a man?’ I got raped and then I was taken to the hospital.”
Ruth Hunt, Stonewall’s Chief Executive, said: “This research contains deeply troubling findings and paints a distressing picture of life for LGBT people inside UK detention centres. Asylum seekers are seeking refuge from persecution and abuse but unfortunately, as this report shows, UK detention centres offer little respite.
“Without doubt, the way the asylum system deals with people who are persecuted for their sexual orientation and gender identity has improved since we released our 2010 report, No Going Back. Yet there is still significant work for the Home Office to do to improve the lives and experiences of LGBT people, and to improve conditions in detention centres in general.
“To create this report we had to rely on the bravery of individuals who were willing to speak out and we are eternally grateful to them. They have shown true courage in sharing with us what are clearly upsetting memories and experiences in the hope that it will create change.
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“At Stonewall we’re working with international activists to help fight for equality in their countries so that people aren’t rejected from their families, or unwelcome in their own communities. But before this happens, people will continue to be victims of discrimination and will continue to seek sanctuary. We must ensure that those who come to us looking for help are accepted for who they are, and that we are helping them to live happy and free lives.’
Paul Dillane, Executive Director at UKLGIG, said: “Our research finds that LGBT asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable in immigration detention and face significant disadvantages and dangers.
“In detention they experience discrimination, harassment and violence from other detainees and from members of staff. The detention environment has serious long-term effects on their mental and physical well-being.
“Seeking asylum is not a crime, it is a right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and yet over the past 20 years the scale of immigration detention in the UK has expanded rapidly.
“Until last year the UK was alone in Europe in operating the Detained Fast Track, a large-scale detained process where asylum claims were determined on a highly accelerated basis in a matter of days.
“The UK has one of the largest detention estates in Europe and detains more migrants and asylum seekers than the vast majority of other countries.
“Shockingly, it is alone in detaining them indefinitely. In July 2015, the High Court found that the process was ‘systemically unfair and unlawful’. However, the UK Government has consistently stated its intention to introduce a new detained procedure.
“The UK is a country that proudly seeks to promote human rights including those of LGBT people on the world stage yet it has for too long detained those who flee to our shores in search of sanctuary. In order to ensure LGBT refugees are respected and protected, the use of indefinite immigration detention must end.”