No Pride In Borders That Kill.

What do these 69 countries have in common?

Afghanistan, Algeria. Antigua & Barbuda, Bangladesh, Barbados, Bhutan, Brunei, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Comoros, Cook Islands, Dominica, Egypt, Eritrea, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guinea, Guyana, Iran, Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Myanmar, Namibia, Nigeria, Occupied Palestinian Territory (Gaza Strip), Oman, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and The Grenadines, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Togo, Tonga, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe…

Answer: The countries where it is illegal to be gay.

Over the last 10 years, many of the 4860 people who have been detained in Larne House Immigration Detention Centre in Northern Ireland have come from these very countries.

LGBT+ people fleeing persecution have a right to claim asylum here under the 1951 Refugee Convention. They are our siblings; at another time and place, we might be them. So we should be angry about how LGBT+ people seeking asylum are treated.

Why do LGBT+ people seek asylum?

  • 11 countries threaten the death penalty for LGBT+ sexual activity.
  • 69 countries treat same-sex relations as a criminal act.   
  • LGBT+ people may be persecuted, raped and sexually abused, discriminated against, humiliated and encounter violence by state representatives, neighbours and their own families, usually without recourse to police protection.

(Sources: ILGA; UKLGIG; Irish Refugee Council)

The UK’s ‘Hostile Environment’

When she was Home Secretary, Theresa May vowed to make the UK “a really hostile environment” for people seeking international protection.  That vow made it into policy and the working practices of asylum decision-makers. Between 2016 and 2018, over 3,100 people who had applied for asylum in the UK on the basis of their sexual or gender identity, had their claims refused. 

Migrants have to meet an astonishingly high burden of proof to be taken seriously. Which LGBT+ person, in a position of serious risk, maintains records of their sexual relationships or gender experiences which would incriminate them? Yet, decision-makers have created a culture of disbelief, telling one man his ‘demeanour’ was not gay enough, asking another woman ‘how can you be lesbian and Christian?’.  The list of horror stories of officialdom is long and punishing.

The UK and Ireland are both signatories to the UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention, which lays out what it means to be a refugee, the rights of displaced persons and the duty of host states.  The kind of protection for refugees that a country can offer is called ‘asylum’, which means that you should not be sent back to your ‘home’ country.  The person seeking international protection has to convince official decision-makers that they are at risk of serious harm because they are LGBT+ (Source: UKLGIG).

Northern Ireland’s ‘Hostile Environment’

Immigration checks in Belfast are disproportionately high, incredibly nearly FOUR TIMES higher than in London and the third highest rate in the UK overall between 2012-2016 (source: based on Home Office data). This is astonishing given the comparatively low population of non-Irish/non-British nationalities living in Northern Ireland. Despite a claim from the Home Office that immigration interventions are ‘intelligence-led’, only one third of those targeted went on to be arrested. 

Immigration interventions can include checks at homes and workplaces, choke-points like ports and airports as well as land-border checks (bus and train) and can involve UK or Irish immigration teams. Both jurisdictions have been accused of racial profiling, creating a ‘hostile environment’ for commuters, tourists and everyday border-users.  This is underlined by the false claims of the British government, who had said there would be no checks in the Common Travel Area (CTA) between the UK and Ireland, which guarantees free movement for Irish and British citizens.

The Nationality and Borders Bill, dubbed the “anti-refugee bill” was introduced in Parliament on July 6, 2021. Having previously shut down or filled all safe and legal routes to reach safety in the UK, this bill proposes an incredibly narrow resettlement scheme used in conjunction with an invented distinction of who the Government labels as a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ asylum seeker. Under the proposal LGBT+ people will be left with no options to safely travel to the UK to seek protection. The anti-refugee bill then seeks to punish those who arrive by irregular means, a move condemned by the UN. The proposal to use ‘third countries’ to process asylum claims will cut people off from support networks and effective legal representation. Finally the Government’s ongoing use of ‘reception centres’ which have included disused army barracks and even office buildings shows the disregard for safety, wellbeing and dignity afforded to people arriving in the UK. Reception centre accommodation for LGBT+ people presents danger to people who have fled persecution in their home countries only to be forced into shared spaces where people may not be tolerant of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Larne House: Northern Ireland’s Short-Term Holding Centre

Larne House is Northern Ireland’s only asylum detention centre and is run by a company called Mitie, that profits from detaining people seeking international protection. The centre has a capacity of 19, held in former cells within the PSNI Larne property. It is ‘short term’,  meaning that detainees are held there for up to 5 days, then either deported, transferred to indefinite detention in an immigration detention centre in Scotland or England, or released – their detention having served no purpose at all.

A Freedom of Information request showed that Larne House does not routinely record or account for the LGBT+ identity of its detainees. This fails to take into account the vulnerability and needs of people who are detained in Larne House, which may include a need for medical or legal advice, social support and counselling support tailored to these individuals on the basis of their LGBT+ status. The nurse who ultimately decides on the health needs of detainees is privately hired by Mitie, the company which profits from a person’s detention, and is therefore separate from the NHS and all of the support and specialisms that offers. Vulnerable people often stay in their rooms as all recreation spaces are shared and may be unsafe. The fleeting stay of most people means that their needs and vulnerabilities are rendered invisible while in Larne House.

Who is Missing?

Numbers fail to tell us about:

  • LGBT+ People afraid to talk about their sexual or gender identity with an official
  • Those traumatised by talking about or reliving very personal sexual assault, abuse and violence.
  • People unaware that they have rights because of their LGBT+ identity. 
  • People who don’t recognise the language and frame of ‘LGBT+’, particularly from non-Western countries with ‘third gender’ and gender non-conforming cultures.
  • A culture of procedural unfairness in the application and deportation systems
  • Many people seeking asylum face physical and mental health challenges due to their persecution and the vagaries of the asylum process
  • LGBT+ people seeking international protection say they face double isolation: as a migrant and as LGBT+

End Deportations Belfast supports Alternatives to Detention (ATD), which are any legislation, policy or practice, formal or informal, that ensures people are not detained for reasons relating to their migration status, e.g., community-based alternatives for people seeking international protection in Northern Ireland.  You can help change language and minds by supporting alternatives to detention and ending the invisibility of LGBT+ people detained at Larne House. There is no form of immigration detention that doesn’t cause harm, so we demand that Larne House is shut down and we stand in solidarity with all newcomers to Northern Ireland who live in fear of the violence inflicted by the ‘hostile environment’ and those who enforce it.

Further reading:

ILGA State Sponsored Homophobia Report 2020

UNHCR Observations on the New Plan for Immigration UK

(Original Larne House photo credit: Emmet Thornton)