Our engagement on LGBTQ+ asylum, detention & deportation with UN Special Rapporteur on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Mr Victor Madrigal-Borloz.

We met with the UN Special Rapporteur on sexual orientation & gender identity in Belfast and raised the dangers of Larne House, contingency accommodation, the ‘burden of proof’ in asylum cases, UK Government’s enabling of the far-right & the poverty faced by LGBTQ+ people seeking asylum.

The advancement of the Illegal Migration Bill through UK Parliament compounds an impossible situation where LGBTQ+ people globally have no mandated route or pathway to claim asylum in the UK other than arriving via irregular means and could be punished for their means of arrival where no other scheme is available.

LGBTQ+ people who have fled persecution are often exposed to abuse and harassment 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.

The immigration detention facility in Northern Ireland is Larne House Short term Holding Facility, former holding cells within PSNI barrack facilities in Larne.

There are repeated Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons recommendations 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.

A second Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons recommendation is that men and women be held separately; again this has been ignored by Mitie. Men and women share the same facility and communal areas, there is also nowhere safe for persecuted minorities other than solitary self-isolation in their former holding cell for the duration of their detention.

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 and represents a failure to follow Home Office 2016 guidelines around the detention of vulnerable people.

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 harassment 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 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. The rate of asylum support paid to people in hotel accommodation is £9.10 a week, this is not enough to travel or participate in LGBTQ+ activities, which can then be detrimental to their asylum case where they have to overcome a ‘burden of proof’ in evidencing their case.

Finally, 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, not only within Northern Ireland but through ‘dispersal’ across the UK.

We need:

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) Properly funded LGBTQ+ services.

v) An immediate end to Home Office ‘dispersals’ of LGBTQ+ people that uproot LGBTQ+ people away from support networks to other parts of the UK.