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Academic researchers say UK asylum system is actively dangerous for queer people seeking sanctuary


Report by University of Birmingham's Queer SEREDA project finds heterosexist, homophobic asylum system violently abandons queer people

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A new report by the University of Birmingham and Rainbow Migration published last week details the sexual and gender-based violence experienced by queer refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.

Report coverYou can download the 28-page report here.

Leila Zadeh, the Executive Director of Rainbow Migration, said the report shines a light on the harms that LGBTQI+ people experience within the asylum system.

Over the course of a year, researchers from the University of Birmingham's Queer SEREDA project conducted interviews with LGBTQI+ people seeking refuge and asylum across the UK. They also interviewed a range of specialist service providers from statutory, voluntary and public health sectors.

The authors stated: "This report is unique in bringing together the experiences of 14 specialist queer forced migrant support services across the UK with the lived experiences of those in the system to understand the specific risks of SGBV that queer asylum seekers face across the continuum of violence from their country of origin to arrival in the place of imagined refuge."

The researchers found that LGBTQI+ asylum seekers experience an alarming catalogue of homophobic and transphobic abuse in the UK, revealing an asylum system that is not only dehumanising, but actively dangerous for queer people seeking sanctuary.

Abuse suffered by queer refugees and asylum seekers ranged from assault in asylum accommodation through to homophobic language being directed at them by interpreters in Home Office interviews and court hearings.

The report states: "Despite the freedoms enjoyed by the LGBTQI+ community in the UK, our research found that queer people seeking sanctuary are not safe in the UK asylum system. Our findings portray a heterosexist, homophobic asylum system that violently abandons queer people most in need of protection. Forced into housing with the very communities they are fleeing from, queer people seeking asylum faced daily experiences of abuse, harassment and sexual assault perpetrated by other residents and staff. Homophobic abuse was also experienced in official settings, from interpreters in asylum interviews and in court. Homophobic slurs were also reported in official translated documents. Despite evidence of specific safeguarding risks faced by queer people seeking asylum, no special safeguarding provision was required in any asylum support settings. Home Office staff and contractors were reported to hold Eurocentric stereotypes of queerness and how this is performed (including in evidence required to 'prove' sexual or gender diversity) which was considered inappropriate to the lived experiences of those who have been conditioned to keep their queerness hidden."

The report continues: "The paradox of needing to be simultaneously invisible, to keep yourself safe and visible, to 'prove' your queerness was a distinct challenge for respondents. The dangers of being visible included exposure to hostile co-ethnic communities in the UK as well as in countries of origin. Respondents feared retribution against their families and for their own safety if their asylum claim was refused and they were removed to their country of origin. Marginalisation from co ethnic communities and mainstream LGBTQI+ and refugee support services were found to increase vulnerability to SGBV. Queer people seeking asylum were also uniquely vulnerable to abuse in relationships due to enforced poverty on asylum support, inexperience in queer relationships, shame and the pressure to be in a relationship as a source of evidence to support asylum claims."

Across a number of recommendations, the report calls for the creation of an asylum system that is safe for queer people. The authors explain that this requires a dismantling of heterosexism, homophobia and transphobia within Home Office systems.

"At the core of the UK asylum system is an assumed heterosexuality and identification with sex assigned at birth which fails to recognise the safeguarding risks to queer people and expects SOGIESC claimants to meet an unfair standard of proof. Awareness of these risks and clear safeguarding policies and protocols need to be mainstreamed across Home Office systems with mandatory training and proactive vetting of staff and interpreters to prevent further homophobic or transphobic incidents," the report urges.

Among the report's other recommendations is to increase legal aid so that the reduction in availability of legal aid lawyers is reversed and everyone seeking asylum who needs a legal aid lawyer can access one.