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LGBT+ asylum seekers face ‘risk of returning to torture’ if Home Office moves ahead with ‘dangerous’ outsourcing plan

Lily Wakefield September 24, 2020
Home office LGBT+ asylum seekers

Protesters carry a placard at a demonstration to highlight conditions inside Brook House immigration removal centre, outside the Home Office in London on August 23, 2020. (JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty)

The UK Home Office has plans to outsource asylum interviews and evidence gathering to private companies, meaning LGBT+ asylum seekers could face the “risk of returning to torture”.

According to the Independent, on Tuesday (22 September) acting head of asylum operations Dave Draper said that the department was “scoping out and testing” the idea of using third parties for some immigration services to “get the system moving again” after a COVID-19 suspension.

But several of the contractors being considered by the Home Office for a six to eight week pilot programme, with potential to extend long term, raise serious concerns.

G4S, Serco, and Sopra Steria have all been involved in scandals over their handling of immigration services.

In 2017, nine members of G4S staff were suspended from duty at Brook House immigration detention centre near Gatwick, after undercover Panorama footage revealed them “mocking, abusing and assaulting” vulnerable detainees.

Omar Mateen, the gunman who killed 49 mostly Latinx LGBT+ people in the June 2016 shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, was also a former G4S employee.

In 2018, it was revealed that accommodation provider Serco was changing the locks when asylum applications were rejected, before tenants had moved out, and French firm Sopra Steria, which was contracted to run the UK’s visa system in 2018, raked in millions of pounds from immigrants by charging “extortionate” fees.

Chief executive of Freedom from Torture Sonya Sceats described the plan as “alarming”, and said: “Asylum decisions often turn on what happens in the interview and there is a real risk of forcible return to torture if mistakes are made… even experienced case workers can fail to spot signs of trauma and struggle to elicit difficult disclosures from survivors.

“Outsourcing such a sensitive process to a commercial provider and severing the link between the interview and the decision-maker is a dangerous move that could jeopardise the Home Office’s commitment to make the right decision first time and push more people into the appeal system.”

Reacting to the news Leila Zadeh, the executive director of UKLGIG which supports LGBT+ asylum seekers, said: “We’re extremely concerned to hear the Home Office is planning to outsource asylum interviews.

“The most important part of an asylum claim is telling your story and explaining why you believe it’s not safe for you to go back to your country of origin.

“It’s hard to imagine that commercial contractors will be well equipped to deal with the complexities and sensitivities of LGBT+ asylum claims.

“We urge the Home Office to reverse this decision and ensure they recruit and train their own staff to carry out interviews and decisions on asylum claims.”

More: G4S, Home Office, LGBT asylum seekers, Serco, Sopra Steria

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