If you’ve read a few of my articles, you’ll probably know by now my views on immigration, asylum and the UK Home Office. I wrote this in response to the Racist Vans a few months ago for example. So, naturally, when headlines like those below started popping up yesterday, my rage levels got pretty high.
BBC News – UK Asylum Seekers told to ‘prove’ they are gay
Apparently, in an effort to make sure that people coming to this country and claiming asylum based on the fact that they are LGBT (or perceived to be so), the UK Border Agency have been asking people for ‘proof’. Quite what constitutes proof is debatable, but examples range from the clothes people are wearing, to showing Agents intimate videos of themselves with someone of the same sex. The Home Affairs Select committee – chaired by the Labour MP Keith Vaz (who I have a lot of time for) – has slammed the UKBA in a recent report, highlighting the bizarre and offensive testing system that people claiming asylum based on their gender or sexuality have to go through.
Now let’s just stop and think about this for a while. A young Ugandan man (I chose Uganda because it is the most obvious example of state sanctioned homophobia, but many countries could fall into this) realises he is gay. Living in a country where homosexuality is punishable by the state, he tries to keep this secret. He manages to have some sexual relationships, and eventually falls in love. He and his partner, who have spent years concealing their identities, decide to tell their families – who not only ostracise them, but tell the police. Everyone in their community harasses and shuns them, and many people try to ‘make them straight’ by beating them. The police arrest both men, put them in separate jails where they are subjected to intolerable abuse. They are eventually released, because there isn’t any evidence of actual sexual activity, but forever they must be separated, and are forced into marriages. They are regularly beaten by people they used to call their friends.
The only way to escape this torture is to leave the country. A charity in Uganda helps them get out, together, and they come to the UK, a country that they’ve been told is accepting of gay people, and which has just recently introduced equal marriage. They believe it is a liberal country that will welcome them, a country that is supposed to be upholding the rights of not only its citizens, but the citizens of the world.
Upon arrival in the UK, they’re put in a detention facility. There’s no torture, but they’re made to feel like they’re not welcome, and they’re effectively imprisoned. They’re separated. They’re interviewed daily by agents that pick apart their life stories, and force them to relive everything that happened to them. The agents tell them they don’t believe that either of the men is gay. That they’re going to need proof. That making the monumental decision to leave your own country isn’t enough to prove that you’ve faced abuse, torture and discrimination. The only way the men can prove that they’re gay is to film themselves having sex and, in the most degrading way, show it to some agents.
Seeking asylum is the last option for people across the world. It’s not an easy decision, and it involves leaving your family, your friends and your culture in order to protect yourself. No sensible person would attempt to seek asylum on false pretences, it is just too difficult a process. The very fact that someone says that they are persecuted or unable to live openly as LGBT will immediately mean they are unable to return home, as in many countries they would immediately be imprisoned. And to force anyone to ‘prove’ their sexuality is not only degrading, but it is stupid. Many people tell me I don’t look or act gay, whatever the hell that means, so perhaps I’d face a problem with UKBA too if I were an asylum seeker. If I wasn’t really gay, but I was damn sure that was the only way I could get into the UK, I don’t think it would take me long to agree to film myself having sex with another man just to get in. The only person that you should ever need to prove your sexuality to is yourself, and the UK Border Agency has no right to ask people to do this for them.
I am extremely proud of the fact that the UK is seen as somewhere that people seeking asylum can come to, a country that protects the rights of people to live equally and without prejudice. Unfortunately, the Home Office and the UK Border Agency under Theresa May are threatening this image. Labour don’t help very much with their ‘tough stance’. Instead of appeasing the Daily Mail/UKIP crowd, we should be showing why it’s important that we are somewhere that people can feel safe. We have a duty to protect not only British citizens, but citizens of the world, and by having an open and liberal asylum system we will be helping to do this. Forcing one group of people to prove something that everyone else doesn’t need to is not only degrading, it is also anti-equality and against the human rights of LGBT people that need a safe place to live.