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WHAT with the soap opera of the Conservative leadership contest offering endless opportunities for distraction, it is easy to forget that a lot of other things are happening in the world.
This week, for example, is Refugee Week, which will see a series of cultural, artistic and educational events take place to celebrate the contribution of refugees to life in Britain.
Perhaps if the millionaires vying to lead the sinking ship of the Tory Party were asked about their policies concerning refugees, this special week might start to get some of the attention it deserves.
I would ask each and every one of them whether they intended to end indefinite detention of those seeking asylum.
Executive director of the UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG) Leila Zadeh has called for just that, telling the Star that, as Britain is the only country in Europe that permits indefinite detention, a 28-day time limit is desperately needed.
UKLGIG is calling on all MPs to support an amendment to the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination Bill, currently moving through Parliament, which will set this limit.
The group also feels that decisions to detain should be reviewed by a judge so that the fate of all vulnerable people seeking to escape persecution in their own countries should not depend on the discretion of faceless Home Office officials.
The most recent figures from the Home Office reveal that over 27,000 people were detained in 2017.
Most are held in eight detention centres and two “short-term holding facilities” across Britain, with the running of all but one contracted out to private firms, an arrangement dramatised to great effect by Russell T Davies in his dystopian drama series Years and Years which reaches a climax on BBC1 this week.
The power to detain was created in the 1971 Immigration Act, but the first government to use it on a large scale was New Labour under Tony Blair, with capacity at detention centres expanding from 475 in 2000 to around 3,500 today.
Any foreign national without leave to remain can also be detained at any time and held in mainstream prisons with 1,691 people resident in 2017.
The charity Bail for Immigration Detainees claims that less a quarter of these migrants have access to legal representation.
UKLGIG and Stonewall research has shown that LGBTQI+ people in particular are at risk of suffering physical and mental harm in detention centres.
They are often held with people who “reflect the prejudices” they’re trying to escape from in the first place.
As a result, Zadeh believes that they “should not be held” in such an environment.
UKLGIG has also reacted with cautious optimism to the government’s announcement of a review into how the Home Office assesses LGBTQI+ asylum claims.
UKLGIG research has found that the bar has been set “too high” for asylum applications based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
In a recent case, one person was able to supply the Home Office with 90 photographs of himself together with his partner, but the Home Office refused to grant him refugee status partly because he could not produce a joint utility bill.
Stereotyping is another issue, according to UKLGIG. Applicants are often expected to have an “emotional” coming out story to share, or to feel a conflict between their sexuality and their religion, but not every person goes on an “emotional journey” or experiences such a conflict.
If an individual does experience a conflict with their religion, the Home Office sometimes expects them to explain how the “conflict” was reconciled before they believe their sexual orientation or gender identity.
UKLGIG is concerned about the reference to the need to safeguard against “potentially fraudulent” claims in a recent statement by Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes.
This can play to negative stereotypes and “affect the attitude of potential decision-makers” who may become prejudiced against claims concerning LGBTQI+ people.
This murky reality makes a mockery of Home Office’s incorporation of the rainbow flag into its logo to mark June’s Pride month. No amount of faux corporate inclusivity should be allowed to obscure the fact that it is still failing LGBTQI+ asylum-seekers, and is still claiming the right to refuse the right of freedom to some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
It is an absolute scandal, and one which should be a source of national rage and embarrassment, especially this week.
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