no pride in detention

No Pride in Detention: End the Detention of LGBTQ+ People

no pride in detention

By Qussai Ramzi, this article was originally published at IMIX. Qussai Ramzi is a member of Rainbow Migration‘s campaigns advisory group

When I think of pride, I think of joy and freedom, of celebrating one’s identity and all its intersections both inwardly and outwardly. I also think of celebratory marches decorated with rainbow flags that tower over the streets and buildings, of all the times I’ve marched hand-in-hand with friends and family (chosen and otherwise), showing up in our full glory.

The chants of our pride are far-reaching, but there are places where they do not echo. Surprisingly, these places actually exist in this country. They are places where pride does not occur and within whose walls people yearn to celebrate with us and to enjoy the same freedoms we enjoy and take for granted, but can’t.

These places I am talking about are none other than the immigration detention facilities that are scattered all over the UK. Their intent is to police, among others, those who come to this country seeking safety from persecution for reasons that include their sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. Behind the walls of these facilities, visibility can be dangerous, and the suppression of gender and sexual diversity can be imperative to survival.

We are not all born equal, and this is a fact illustrated by the mere idea that some of us must claim asylum to evade death and persecution, and in the process will be subjected to not only the fatal process of fleeing, but also to being locked up upon reaching “safety”.

The right to asylum is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1951 Refugee Convention, of which the UK is a signatory. Why then, are those seeking asylum continually framed as a security threat? And why are human rights slowly being dismantled at every juncture in the UK? As the government is trying to rid itself of its responsibilities by passing the Nationality and Borders Act and by sending people seeking safety in the UK 4,000 miles away to Rwanda, unknown numbers of LGBTQI+ people are being held in immigration detention, not knowing their fate. They are detained without courts or judges, in prison-like conditions, and for unlimited amounts of time.

Conditions in immigration detention are not good for anyone and are particularly unsafe for LGBTQI+ people, for whom the impact of detention can be devastating. It deprives them of their freedom and cuts them off from support networks. For those trying to “prove” their sexual orientation or gender identity to the Home Office as part of an asylum claim, being forced into the closet to stay safe in detention is a huge setback. LGBTQI+ people in detention experience discrimination, bullying and violence, which can re-traumatise those who have fled violent persecution elsewhere.

I am not new to campaigning on human rights issues. When approached to join Rainbow Migration’s Campaigns Advisory Group, I felt it important to call for an end to LGBTQI+ detention and a 28-day time limit for all immigration detention. I’ve worked on Refugee and Migrant Rights campaigns before as part of my role at Amnesty International UK, and have worked with refugees in detention at The Bike Project and heard heartbreaking stories. Their stories and their tireless calls for an end to detention remain widely unheard, and are outside the scope of most LGBTQI+ rights campaigns.

We launched our campaign No Pride in Detention: End the Detention of LGBTQI+ People, because  nobody should be detained indefinitely with no idea when they might be set free, and no LGBTQI+ person should be locked up and subjected to LGBTQI-phobic bullying and abuse. The engagement and mobilisation of LGBTQI+ communities on this issue is imperative to affecting change, and if enough people are willing to take action, enough pressure can be placed on the government to reform this issue, and the wider injustices of the immigration/asylum system.

Strides have been made already, with the government recognising that trans and intersex people are particularly at risk of harm in detention and should not be detained in most circumstances. But this policy must be widened to include all LGBTQI+ people. We believe that the exclusion of LGBTQI+ people from detention will increase the pressure on government to explore and invest in alternatives to detention that are more humane and recognise the vulnerabilities and risks faced by the LGBTQ+ community. Immigration detention is not the right solution for anyone and wider reforms are needed, supporting people to resolve their immigration status within the community.

As we go out and celebrate this month, let us also try to reflect on how our freedom is tied to the freedom and liberation of others, and that we are not entirely free when some of us are locked up while seeking safety from persecution.

Let us not only envision, but also fight for a world where no-one can be held indefinitely without a charge, where no LGBTQI+ people are detained and where humane, community-based alternatives are developed.

Calling for an end to LGBTQI+ detention and a 28- day time limit for all immigration detention

With the support of five other national LGBTQI+ charities, today we are launching ‘No Pride in Detention’, a campaign calling for an end to the immigration detention of LGBTQI+ people and a time limit to ensure no-one is detained for more than 28 days.

The campaign is launching during Pride month and at a time when unknown numbers of LGBTQI+ people are being held in immigration detention in the UK, as the government does not collect or monitor data on this. They are detained without judicial oversight, in prison-like conditions, and for an indefinite amount of time.

Detention is most often used to facilitate the removal of a person from the UK, in which case there must be a realistic prospect of removal within a reasonable timeframe. However, most people detained are instead released on bail or otherwise, their detention having served no purpose other than to isolate and traumatise them.

“Detention is awful for anyone, but our research found that for LGBTQI+ people the impact can be devastating. As well as being deprived of their freedom and cut off from support networks, they face LGBTQI-phobic bullying, discrimination and abuse from staff and others in detention”, explains Leila Zadeh, Executive Director at Rainbow Migration.

As part of their asylum process, LGBTQI+ people must “prove” their sexual orientation or gender identity by providing evidence. This turns into an even more difficult task when they are locked up. As Leila describes, “people in detention can’t visit LGBTQI+ venues, join support groups or attend Prides. In fact, detention is likely to force them back into the closet to stay safe while they are detained”.

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. “We are urging the government to extend this recognition to all LGBTQI+ people”, says Leila.


From indefinite detention to a 28-day limit

The campaign is also urging the government to establish a 28-day cumulative time limit on detention for everyone. As Leila explains, “the UK is the only country in Europe where people can be deprived of their freedom indefinitely for immigration purposes. This needs to end. It separates people from their families and causes long-term damage to their physical and mental health.”

Rainbow Migration’s ‘No Pride in Detention’ campaign is launching with the support of national LGBTQI+ charities Stonewall, Mermaids UK, LGBT Foundation, African Rainbow Family and Micro Rainbow.

“During the next few months we will be bringing more LGBTQI+ organisations and individuals on board to join us in the fight to end LGBTQI+ detention. We need to come together and show this government that the LGBTQI+ community won’t stand for some of its most marginalised members being locked up in places they aren’t safe ”, says Leila, and continues, “people should be supported to resolve their immigration status in the community, which is more humane, less damaging to people’s mental and physical health, and has been shown to produce better outcomes for less money. For LGBTQI+ people, this also means being able to live more openly and access specialist support from community LGBTQI+ organisations”.