(An article co-written by multiple organisations in N.Ireland, including End Deportations Belfast)
This Trans Awareness Week we call for an end to the detention of LGBTQ+ people seeking asylum as a priority, the provision of safe and adequate housing, and for the closure of Larne House.
The criminalisation and persecution of LGBTQ+ people is happening right now in at least 69 countries across the world. Many LGBTQ+ people have had to flee to seek sanctuary, particularly from the 11 countries that have the death penalty for same-sex acts. LGBTQ+ people seeking asylum are often at risk of additional danger during their journey and upon arrival in the country where they seek asylum, such as harassment, exclusion, sexual violence, or other forms of violence. Notably, since 2016 the Home Office has recognised that trans and intersex people are particularly at risk of harm and should not be detained in most circumstances.
LGBTQ+ people are detained without the oversight of a judge or court system, in prison-like conditions with no release date. We know that trans people have been held in Larne House, even after the Home Office recognised the risk that detention posed to them. There is a repeated Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons recommendation that reception interviews should be conducted in private in Larne House, this is particularly important if a detainee needs to raise fears about sexual orientation or gender identity, this has not been acted upon by Mitie who operate Larne House for the Home Office.
Whilst Larne House staff do not routinely record the sexual orientation or gender identity of the people they detain in Larne House, we know that LGBTQ+ people are amongst those who have been detained there. An LGBTQ+ org recently supported a trans person being detained in Larne House having fled a country where trans genocide is ongoing. This person should never have been detained in Larne House, following guidelines around vulnerable people.
LGBTQ+ people who have fled persecution are often exposed to abuse and harrassment in detention. Many organisations in Northern Ireland are part of Rainbow Migration’s ‘No Pride In Detention’ campaign which calls for an end to the detention of LGBTQ+ people in immigration detention.
Detention in Larne House is not the only issue of concern, the use of ‘contingency accommodation’ is often not fit for purpose or safe for LGBTQ+ Refugees. Immigration detention cuts LGBTQ+ people off from support networks, we are aware of instances where LGBTQ+ people seeking international protection have been physically and sexually assaulted, which goes unreported to authorities due to stigma and fear. Additionally people have experienced homophobic and transphobic harrassment with the only respite being to self isolate, withdrawing from social interaction and shared facilities.
Home Office-provided accommodation for people seeking asylum does not make allowances for a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation as standard. Whilst the Home Office and accommodation contractors (Mears Group) recognise that LGBTQ+ people may be ‘adults at risk or with specific needs’ in most cases queer people seeking asylum are housed with the general population. This is extremely problematic as the attitudes and prejudices they are escaping from are sometimes represented in a person’s own home, or by people from their home country. Often it is only as a result of a homophobic or transphobic hate incident, with police intervention and considerable advocacy by support organisations, that people are moved to more suitable accommodation.
For our LGBTQ+ people seeking asylum, it is important that they are geographically located close to where the support and safe spaces are located. In reality, this means close to Belfast or another major city. Placing LGBTQ+ people away from peer support is isolating. We are also very concerned at the arbitrary way in which some asylum seekers have been moved without proper notice and without knowing where they are going.
People seeking asylum are often fleeing hugely dangerous and unsafe conditions, Organisations have supported people who have experienced not only violence but also attempts to separate them from their children, and even a person who had been held in modern slavery conditions.
LGBTQ+ organisations in Northern Ireland are not funded directly to support people seekin asylum but along with other community and voluntary groups we all continue to fight for LGBTQ+ dignity and safety.
i) An asylum system fit for purpose.
ii) An end to LGBTQ+ immigration detention and the entire closure of Larne House.
iii) A provision through Mears and all Home Office contractors to provide an option of LGBTQ+ accommodation or ‘own front door’ accommodation
iv) An immediate end to Home Office ‘dispersals’ of LGBTQ+ people that uproot LGBTQ+ people away from support networks to other parts of the UK.
End Deportations Belfast
Migration Justice Project
Human Rights Consortium
Reclaim the Agenda