Gay and lesbian asylum seekers in the UK may in the future face more obstacles related to their cases compared with other claimants. This is because of changes being made to immigration rules by the Home Office post-Brexit.
‘We are in uncharted territory,’ says Marios Kontos, legal officer at UKLGIG, a group that specializes in helping LGBTQI+ people through the asylum and immigration system.
Until it left the EU, the UK was part of what’s informally known as the Dublin system. This allowed the UK to return asylum seekers to the first European country they had fled to. Brexit has put an end to this and the UK is replacing the system with different provisions.
This means that those asylum seekers whose cases are found ‘inadmissible’ will face fresh problems in the UK.
‘Worryingly,’ Marios explained, ‘One of the new criteria says that a safe third country can be any country that is willing to accept them. They do not even need to have been in that country before or even to have had any connection to it.’
Another area of unease centres on whether countries the Home Office deems ‘safe’ really are appropriate places for LGBTQI+ people to be shipped off to.
‘What we are concerned about is whether LGBTQI+ people who are transferred to these countries are able to live with dignity.’ Marios says. ‘What if they are sent to a country that is not a signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights, for example? What if they will be subjected to degrading or inhumane treatment?’
‘We are in uncharted territory,’ says Marios Kontos, legal officer at UKLGIG
It is also within the Home Office’s remit to send asylum seekers to countries in which they have a relative. For LGBTQI+ people, this could mean sending them back to hostile families and dangerous environments.
They could face being thrust back into the arms of the very people they are fleeing from. Once an asylum seeker is returned, a relative could also subsequently inform the rest of the family about their identity, potentially endangering their life.
Another problem is that when a person’s claim is considered inadmissible it places them in a state of limbo until the UK sorts out their transfer. This process could take years.
“How are you going to live with no status, right to work or any sort of stability?” asks Marios. “LGBTQI+ people that we work with often face extreme isolation and destitution.”
‘What if they are sent to a country that is not a signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights, for example? What if they will be subjected to degrading or inhumane treatment?’
Not all these sorts of issues or potential scenarios could have happened if the UK were still bound by EU law.
LGBTQI+ people already face significant challenges and barriers in the asylum process. For example, providing proof of sexual orientation when you have fled a country that punishes you for expressing it can be very difficult, not to mention painful.
It is also potentially traumatic having to discuss such intimate and personal details about one’s past with a complete stranger, in a foreign country and in a language you may not be able to speak well.
Now that the UK has left the EU, new ways of handling asylum seekers are coming into effect. What that has done is add yet another extra layer of uncertainty for some of society’s most vulnerable.
[Header Image: Steve Bell, The Guardian]