Sending asylum seekers home with instructions to “be discreet”

// 24 June 2008

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In an outrageous statement against LGBTs and asylum seekers, UK’s Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith claims gay and lesbian asylum seekers can be deported to Iran (and other countries such as Nigeria, Uganda and Cameroon) safely as long as they are “discreet”.

In a letter to a Liberal Democrat peer, seen by The Independent, Ms Smith said there was no “real risk” of gay men and lesbians being discovered by the Iranian authorities or “adverse action” being taken against those who were “discreet” about their behaviour.

in her letter to Lord Roberts of Llandudno, Ms Smith rejected a call for an immediate halt to the deportation of gay and lesbian asylum seekers. “We recognise that the conditions for gay and lesbian people in Iran – and many other countries – are such that some individuals are able to demonstrate a need for international protection,” she wrote. “We do not, however, accept that we should make the presumption that each and every asylum-seeker who presents themselves as being of a particular nationality or sexuality, regardless of their particular circumstances, should automatically be … allowed to remain in the UK.

The idea that you will be safe from being executed if you pretend to be straight is inhumane and makes a mockery of a country claiming to defend human rights. The last “throwaway” sentence is an insult to asylum seekers and panders to the erroneous belief that there are hundreds of thousands of applicants every year with the government operating on the presumption that by far the majority are criminals. (23,610 in 2006) The reality is the numbers of people seeking asylum are small and they are not criminals. The statement is consistent with the governments attitude towards asylum seekers of disbelief and blaming the victim: – not believing claims; believing claims based on rape but saying unless they claimant can prove that the rape was part of a campaign of persecution against women then it is not valid; blaming the claimant for making a stand (for example in the case of a Zimbabwean, blaming him for protesting against Mugabe)

Links:

Trouble Sleeping [Film]

The Hell of Being an Asylum Seeker

Cross posted from Black Looks

Comments From You

Shea // Posted 24 June 2008 at 7:00 pm

I agree that the asylum system in this country is terrible and inhumane, but I take issue with this post. Unless the UK takes a neo-colonialist approach and starts invading or boycotting every other country with political, religious and cultural beliefs which appear horrendous to us (because its going just soooo well in Iraq, right?) then I don’t see what other option they have but to advise failed asylum applicants to be careful, in much the same way the foreign office does to homosexual UK travellers going abroad. I’d actually advocate some military action in Zimbabwe in order to remove Mugabe, because the rest of Africa seems only too happy to pander to this tyrant, but can you imagine the international outcry? Especially given the British history with the country.

Its inherent in any immigration system that they are going to disbelieve claims. None us take as gospel everything that is related to us. Thats just the nature of it, as it is with the benefits and disability systems. And with regards rape, yes its horrific, but if someone is claiming asylum, then they do need to show they were being persecuted. A one -off incident of rape as terrifying as it is is not the basis of persecution, it is an attack and a violation, but not persecution (this sounds incredibly callous no matter which way I write it. It isn’t meant like this at all, rather you don’t seem to understand the grounds for granting asylum). On your basis UK rape victims could go to New Zealand, Australia or the USA and claim asylum.

I support a wholesale reform of the asylum system, make it fairer, more transparent and more just— but even then some applicants will not be granted permission to stay, what else can the Home Office do, but try its best to prepare them?

Shea // Posted 24 June 2008 at 7:12 pm

Wow that post is going to make me seem like a complete and utter monster. It isn’t meant to be. I think there is a very real problem here. We in the UK quite rightly believe a person’s sexuality is there own business, but this isn’t shared by other countries especially where Abrahamic religion is strong. So what to we do? Impose our cultural hegemony on them? Restrict trade until they see things our way? Really I’m not trying to be facetious I just don’t see a way to help these poor people who get caught in the middle, because we either respect other countries sovereignty and slef determination or we don’t and we start acting all imperialistic, which isn’t great either. The net result is individuals get stuck betwen a rock and a very hard place.

Shea // Posted 24 June 2008 at 7:22 pm

“but even then some applicants will not be granted permission to stay, what else can the Home Office do, but try its best to prepare them?”

The answer is of course let them stay- the preferable answer at least.

Sorry I’ll stop thread jacking now

Laurel Dearing // Posted 24 June 2008 at 10:30 pm

I watched a documentary about iranians on this issue. it was ok to be gay or go against gender stereotypes… if you got a sex change. or if you were planning to. though this was only acceptable if ou felt you were a woman inside understandably, but some men made the decision because they felt they had no choice. i have no idea if it works the opposite way round because you’d have so many more rights as a man.

it MAY be acceptable for you to be gay in your own home, but obviously these people were the few that wanted to be gay outside too, or they wouldnt have came!

sokari // Posted 25 June 2008 at 8:52 am

“Unless the UK takes a neo-colonialist approach and starts invading or boycotting every other country with political, religious and cultural beliefs which appear horrendous to us (because its going just soooo well in Iraq, right?) then I don’t see what other option they have but to advise failed asylum applicants to be careful, in much the same way the foreign office does to homosexual UK travellers going abroad”

So Zimbabweans should not try to rid themselves of Mugabe? Nigerian LGBT activists should not try to change the laws in their country thereby having to live a life of pretense?

The UK already takes a “neo-colonialist approach” when IT chooses to do so and no one is asking for any Western government to invade Zimbabwe or anywhere else. You say African’s are pandering to Mugabe but you are not prepared to give asylum to those citizens who put their lives on the line to protest against him? Or give support to the many who would be tortured if they were return?

The rape I speak of refers to rape in a WAR / CONFLICT ZONE. Women who seek asylum are doing so because they have been raped in a CONFLICT / WAR ZONE, not because they have been raped. Women from the DRC for example. The British government is well aware of documented violence and rape against women. That is sufficient evidence of persecution.

Disbelief of claims is genderised and racialised. Why would someone go through the pain and humiliation of seeking asylum if it was a lie? Asylum seekers placed into detention in places like Yarlswood which is horrendous. They are abused by the guards, fed sub-standard food, separated from their children, face constant sexual harassment and treated inhumanely. And these are people who are not guilty of anything, they are not criminals. They are systematically refused proper procedures such as access to legal advise and medical care.

What is “Abrahamic religion” – I have never heard of it? Could it be followers of the Prophet Abraham found in the Old Testament? If so I did not know there was a religion under his name!

I find your language patronising and disingenuous – with a complete lack of knowledge and understanding of the issues raised here including the lives of LGBT people in this country.

Laurel @ Your information on LGBT people in Iran is misinformed. It is not only unacceptable to be gay in any situation, it is a criminal offense with the penalty of death. Nigeria’s laws on homosexuality are based on the British colonial laws which does not mention lesbians. However the reality is very very different. Known lesbians are at risk of rape and physical violence. Those who seek asylum are women who have been outed and face persecution.

See HRW reports on LGBT in Iran

Jess McCabe // Posted 25 June 2008 at 10:15 am

Indeed – No-one is suggesting invading anywhere. The asylum system is built on the knowledge that human rights abuses occur in some parts of the world; the immigration service (in theory anyway) wouldn’t send someone back to a country where they faced imprisonment and death for their political activism, therefore it should not send someone back to a country where they face imprisonment and death for being openly lesbian or gay. Both violate basic human rights. Neither case has anything to do with invading or boycotting the country in question, or cultural imperialism, or anything – it is a matter of providing refuge for people fleeing persecution.

Jess // Posted 25 June 2008 at 11:14 am

Incidentally, rape has just been recognised as a war crime by the UN – thus the point Sokari is making is far from controversial.

Cara // Posted 25 June 2008 at 11:59 am

Wow. This is sick. Yeah, go back and live a lie…obviously pretending to be heterosexual when you are not is no big deal *sarcasm*. I suppose Jacqui Smith wants to go back to the 50s when gay people got married and lived a lie here, too.

Actually, it strikes me that there are similarities between the disbelief in rape and asylum cases.

In both cases victims are presumed guilty of fabricating stories – either having regretted sex, wanting revenge and the other crap the Daily Male comes out with to explain women’s motivations for reporting rape, other than, duh, being raped…similarly asylum claimants must be so desparate to leave their life behind and come to the UK and live on princely benefits, they make up stories about being persecuted…actual evidence is dismissed as being due to other causes…it’s more than being appropriately cynical, because yes, obviously a small minority of people could be lying, but just seems to presume that women/ non-white people are duplicitious liars who cannot be trusted.

I should point out that, as far as I know, Laurel was correct re: gay people in Iran – what she said was that being gay is a crime *unless you get a sex change* which is acceptable, as the person is seen as being the opposite sex inside, and therefore really heterosexual. Seems sex changes still buy into patriarchal gender binary. Not to get into that argument. I’m not saying that all sex changes *are* invalid. But I’m sure in Iran, many gay people do get a sex change – in fact I believe I read that they can be forced to do so.

Shev // Posted 25 June 2008 at 1:07 pm

Shea, the point is not trying to impose our culture onto others, but provide those who are being persecuted within their own culture with a safe space. And yes, rape is persecution, if it is done with the intent to ‘straighten out’ a woman, or to punish her in some way for an infringement of her cultural values. Even if it is ‘only’ once (how many times must one be subject to this before being a ‘real’ victim’ of persecution?).

In any case, whilst obviously it is unacceptable to say ‘go back, and be discreet’ (what does that mean anyway? Don’t go out in public? Don’t have ‘suspicious’ friends? Don’t go out at all? Don’t have a love life, it’s much too indiscreet? Live in hiding from your family and anyone who once knew you?), it’s actually impossible advice to follow in many cases. ‘Known’ homosexuals cannot just go back, and pretend to be straight, because in nearly all cases, someone will blow their cover. In any case, where communities are close, no matter how discreet you are, people will notice and comment on any aberrance in your living arrangements. Note: when I moved into my house a few months ago (with my girlfriend), we came up for one weekend with some stuff, then back again the next weekend with mroe stuff (we did not come with rainbow flags – we came with brown boxes). The guy opposite us stood outside his door, staring sourly, before stomping inside, yelling to his wife ‘the dykes are back.’ Now if this happens in small street in middle England where there are net curtains but people keep themselves to themselves, imagine how much faster the word spreads in societies where people are expected to be married, and people think it strange if you deliberately keep your personal life ‘discreet’.

This disgusts, but sadly does not surprise me.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 25 June 2008 at 1:14 pm

thanks cara. i know it happens sometimes as the capital seemed to make quite a business out of it.

the ones on screen needed their mothers consent. it was for the men that were effeminate in a way that they would get bullied in male jobs, and are unable to get female jobs. dressing like a female would get them pulled over by the morality police, however if they had a card to say they were getting a sex change they would *one screen* be fine.

some people said they were happy. some of them were alienated from their families. some of them really didnt want to change but felt they had to, and other new women said they thought two men together were still sick.

it must be said, one that really wanted the operation’s boyfriend looked none too impressed with his new girlfriend.

none of this excuses these people are being sent back. many people may live happily under those rules, but it only affects your own life choices, and its appalling when they try to escape to places they can live their lives, theyre sent back with the option of pretending, sex change or god knows what!

Shea // Posted 25 June 2008 at 1:34 pm

“So Zimbabweans should not try to rid themselves of Mugabe? Nigerian LGBT activists should not try to change the laws in their country thereby having to live a life of pretense?”— YES! that was wholeheartedly my point.

“You say African’s are pandering to Mugabe but you are not prepared to give asylum to those citizens who put their lives on the line to protest against him? Or give support to the many who would be tortured if they were return?” –

Where exactly have I said this? I never said anything of the sort. Please don’t imput phrases, neither written or implied to me. Straw men might sound good, but they don’t win the argument.

This is so typical of the sanctimonius preaching that is directed at anyone pointing out the generalisations being used and the underlying problems. I note that you don’t offer any real world solutions in either of your posts and frankly all the bleeding heart handwringing in the world is pointless without realistic solutions for change.

“I find your language patronising and disingenuous – with a complete lack of knowledge and understanding of the issues raised here”—- well maybe if you actually read what I wrote instead of implying your own disingenous interpretations.

FYI I have actually been in a detention centre abroad in a country with a much worse human rights record than the UK, and I was forcibly deported. So I do have some knowledge of what I’m talking about.

“Abrahamic religions” is a fairly common term used to refer to the major three monotheistic religions, Christianity/Judaism/Islam which encounter Abraham/Avraham/Ibrahim.

Julie // Posted 25 June 2008 at 10:40 pm

“I’d actually advocate some military action in Zimbabwe in order to remove Mugabe, because the rest of Africa seems only too happy to pander to this tyrant.”

And who exactly would do this military action then? If you say that Britain is too steeped in colonialism for the Zimbabweans to tolerate a UK invasion, you are absolutely correct. However would your alternative be deploying UN troups? The United Nations is run by the security council which consists of the most powerful states in the world, with the US at the very top. Would you trust the US, Britain, China, France or Russia to “liberate” Zimbabwe? Between them they have bombed Korea, Vietnam, tortured people in Kenya, Zimbabwe, occupied Algeria, still occupy Tibet, routinely use the death penalty, and use extraordinary rendition to indefinitely detain “suspects” without trial and torture them. They have funded/and still fund right wing death squads in Central and South America. And we have not even got round to mentioning Iraq or Afghanistan.

How do we get rid of dictators then? If you go back to 1989, Ceaucescu was the dictator of Romania. A mass movement of ordinary people overthrew him, they did not need “western intervention.” A mass movement of Zimbabweans can overthrow Mugabe and his thugs.

The reason why Jacqui Smith’s advice to refugees being deported “to be discreet” about their LGBT status is so appalling is: As home secretary she has the power to stop them being deported. If these people get raped/tortured/murdered once they are forcibly returned to these countries, Jacqui Smith will be responsible and have blood on her hands.

Alex B (male) // Posted 25 June 2008 at 11:30 pm

Outrageous is exactly the right word. I can’t believe she said anything quite so stupid.

And I couldn’t disagree any more with Shea. “Cultural hegemony”! Come on! The number of human rights abuses excused by resorting to cultural relativism, or respect for sovereignty is horrific. I do get that part of your point is the practicalities. But how is insisting on respect for universal human rights “imperialism”? A lot of Sovereignty is illegitimate anyway – if the population have no say. And self-determination – who’s? The people’s or the regime’s? A regime without the backing of the population has no right to self-determination. Hence the condemnation of Mugabe from just about everyone.

Nick Cohen describes this attitude perfectly in What’s Left? How Liberals Lost Their Way (p105-p106) – well worth reading by the way.

“As epistemic relativism infected leftish intellectual life, all the old universal criteria, including human rights…became suspect instruments of elite oppression and Western cultural imperialism”

Jess // Posted 26 June 2008 at 1:14 pm

“This is so typical of the sanctimonius preaching that is directed at anyone pointing out the generalisations being used and the underlying problems. I note that you don’t offer any real world solutions in either of your posts and frankly all the bleeding heart handwringing in the world is pointless without realistic solutions for change.”

I’m ignoring the tone of your comment, to point out that Sokari is surely suggesting an extremely practical real-world solution: the UK government should not deport anyone on the basis that they’ll escape persecution if they stay in the closet.

For me, this is an example of the UK government’s egregious and cruel policy on asylum, which is more concerned about a close-the-borders, keep-‘them’-out, racist, xenophobic agenda than it is about protecting individuals from persecution.

Shea // Posted 26 June 2008 at 6:42 pm

Alex- I know I have a tendancy to come across badly, but what you wrote was exactly my point (or my attempt). That respect for sovereignty and cultural relativism is used as an excuse for inaction towards and tolerance of some repugnant views.

“A regime without the backing of the population has no right to self-determination. Hence the condemnation of Mugabe from just about everyone.” Exactly, but the silence of African leaders and especially the African Union towards Mbeki has been deafening. (Julie– rather than the UN the African Union troops would be a better solution, no?)

Shea // Posted 26 June 2008 at 11:59 pm

That should have been towards Mugabe. Mbeki has been especially quiet, even when violence in South Africa erupted toward Zimbabwean refugees.

I don’t condone this approach to homosexual asylum seekers I think its abhorrent.

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