No Pride in Detention

End the detention of LGBTQI+ people

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No-one should be locked up indefinitely in a place they aren’t safe.

Right now, unknown numbers of LGBTQI+ people are being held in immigration detention in the UK. They are detained without courts or judges, in prison-like conditions, and for an unlimited amount of time.

Although detention should normally only be used when someone is about to be removed from the UK, most people are eventually released – their detention having served no purpose other than to isolate and traumatise them.

For LGBTQI+ people the impact can be devastating. Detention deprives them of their freedom and cuts them off from support networks. They are bullied and discriminated against by staff and others inside, which re-traumatises those who have fled persecution. As a result many have no choice but to be in the closet to stay safe, making it harder for them to “prove” they are LGBTQI+ as part of their asylum claim.

Since 2016 the government has recognised that trans and intersex people are particularly at risk of harm and should not be detained in most circumstances. But despite the evidence of harm suffered, they won’t say the same for LGBQ people. This has to change.

Supporting people to navigate the immigration system in the community is more humane, better for their mental and physical health, and produces better outcomes for less money. But still the government locks up tens of thousands of people every year – some for months or even years on end.

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.

Join our campaign to call for an end to LGBTQI+ detention and a 28-day time limit for all immigration detention.

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FAQ

Immigration detention is the practice of locking up people in detention centres for the purposes of “immigration control”. It’s completely separate from the criminal justice system – meaning people are detained on the decision of a Home Office official, without oversight from the courts. Crucially, there is no limit on the length of time someone can be held in detention – the UK is the only European country without a time limit.

There are seven detention centres in the UK (also known as “Immigration Removal Centres” or “IRCs”), most run by private security companies for profit. The centres are notorious for their prison-like conditions and inadequate safeguards, and many who are detained will spend weeks, months or even years inside.

A Home Affairs Select Committee report published in 2019 found that “the Home Office has utterly failed in its responsibilities to oversee and monitor the safe and humane detention of individuals in the UK”.

According to government policy, detention is usually used to:

  • effect removal of a person from the UK;
  • establish a person’s identity or the basis of their asylum/immigration claim; or
  • where there is reason to believe that a person will fail to comply with any conditions attached to a grant of immigration bail.

People in detention may be newly arrived in the UK, or people who have lived here lawfully for years. Some may have breached the terms of their visa, or had their claim for asylum refused. In September 2021, more than 60% of those in detention had at some stage claimed asylum in the UK.

According to government policy, detention must be used sparingly and for the shortest period necessary, but in the year ending September 2021 more than 21,000 people entered immigration detention. Some will be held there for months or even years, and the vast majority are ultimately released without being removed from the UK.

It is impossible to say how many LGBTQI+ people are in detention as the government does not collect or monitor data on this. This has been criticised by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration and the Home Affairs Select Committee, as it means the government cannot monitor the effects of detention on LGBTQI+ people.

In 2019, the Home Affairs Select Committee recommended that as well as considering all LGBTQI+ people to be particularly vulnerable to harm in detention, the Home Office should monitor and publish statistics on the number of LGBTQI+ people it detains. Neither of these recommendations has been implemented.

LGBTQI+ people experience LGBTQI-phobic bullying, discrimination and abuse in detention. Sometimes this is from other people being detained, who may come from the same countries that LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum have fled. Other times it is from the staff who ought to be protecting them. This has serious effects on their mental and physical health, and self-harm and suicide attempts are sadly common.

For those who have fled persecution in their home country, the experience of being locked up or the violence experienced in detention can cause them to re-live their trauma. It can also make it harder for them to make their case for asylum. As part of that process, people must “prove” their sexual orientation or gender identity to an official – already a nearly impossible task. Many do this by providing evidence of a life lived openly in the UK, but 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.

Government policy recognises that certain groups of people may be “particularly vulnerable to harm in detention”, including trans and intersex people. This creates a presumption that these groups should not be detained. However, it is still possible for “immigration control considerations” to override that presumption, in which case the Home Office may still detain trans and intersex people “if it is necessary in order to remove them”.

Immigration detention is inhumane and expensive, causing long-term damage to the lives of those detained, tearing families apart and rarely achieving its stated aims. In fact in the year ending September 2021, more than 80% of people leaving detention were released back into the community rather than being removed from the UK. Supporting people to get help with their immigration status while living in the community can help them to resolve their cases without the human and economic cost that detention brings.

At the moment, community-based case management approaches are being tested across Europe. The first project to report back in the UK found that providing vulnerable asylum-seeking women with shared accommodation, intensive support and legal advice in the community:

  • was significantly better for their health and wellbeing
  • could cost half as much as keeping someone in detention, and
  • did not decrease compliance with the immigration system.

Our No Safe Refuge report showed that detention is simply not safe for LGBTQI+ people. Since then, the government has recognised that trans and intersex people are particularly at risk of harm in detention and should not be detained if possible. This recognition must be urgently extended to all LGBTQI+ people.

But indefinite detention is not just unsafe for LGBTQI+ people, it is unjust and inhumane for everyone. The UK is the only country in Europe where people can be deprived of their freedom indefinitely for immigration purposes. It separates people from their families and causes long-term damage to their physical and mental health. Until the government agrees to end the practice of immigration detention in the UK, there should be a time limit ensuring no-one is detained for more than 28 days.

All detention has a negative impact on a person’s mental health, but research has shown there is a significant rise in the severity of harm after 30 days. And according to this government’s own guidance documents, 28 days should be sufficient time for them to ascertain whether removal can take place even in complex cases.

Based on the evidence, a 28-day time limit has been recommended by both the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Home Affairs Select Committee.

* Hussain, Mukasa and Omar are all participants in our research No Safe Refuge: Experiences of LGBT asylum seekers in detention (2016).