Two top UK government ministers have responded to Gay Star News’ Rainbow Rush campaign.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Immigrations Minister Caroline Nokes have vowed to ensure LGBTI people face better treatment while applying for asylum.
What is the Rainbow Rush scandal?
Gay Star News sent an open letter regarding this scandal to the Home Secretary in June.
Data shows the Home Office, in the past two years, have turned away two thirds of the 3,535 gay or bi asylum applications.
‘Home Office officials have turned down genuine applicants, advised them to go home and “act discreetly” or even suggested religion can “cure” them,’ we said.
‘We call on the government to enact an immediate moratorium on deporting or detaining any asylum seekers.
‘We demand an independent inquiry into the Rainbow Rush cases and will be happy to provide evidence to that inquiry.
‘And we further ask that HM Government agrees to accept the recommendations of that inquiry and to enact permanent changes to ensure our asylum system is fair to all LGBTI and other asylum seekers in future.
‘This is a once in a generation opportunity for the UK to put an end to historic wrongdoing by immigration officials and ensure we are, in future, ranked as world leaders in our provision of asylum on humanitarian grounds.’
How did the UK respond to the campaign?
Javid has revealed caseworkers have now been provided with ‘dedicated training and guidance’ to handle claims based on sexual orientation.
‘Our guidance emphasises the realisation of sexual identity rather than sexual practices, and the risk of persecution on that basis. It also prohibits any type of stereotyping or the asking of sexually explicit questions or receipt of sexually explicit evidence,’ Javid said.
The UK will also now provide guidance on not just sexual orientation, but on gender identity including non-binary.
However, the Home Office is refusing to carry out an independent inquiry into these cases or agree to a moratorium on deportation or detention.
Javid also insisted all asylum claims are ‘carefully considered’ on their individual merits.
He said: ‘Where someone is found to be at risk of persecution or serious harm in their country of origin because of their sexuality or gender identity, refugee status will be granted.’
UK will better treatment of trans and non-binary asylum seekers
The Home Secretary revealed the Home Office will soon be publishing guidance on gender identity and expression.
‘As with our guidance on sexual orientation, we have consulted with our stakeholders who have provided valuable feedback,’ Javid said.
Nokes, in a Rainbow Rush letter to a British man who fears losing his Nepalese husband, continued.
‘We continue to work collaboratively with a diverse range of organisations specialising in LGBT human rights protection and have developed with them a wide-ranging Equality Action Plan which is regularly reviewed by our Strategic Engagement Group of partners,’ she said.
‘Home Office staff cannot and do not make arbitrary decisions on the basis of homophobic, biphobic or transphobic views.
‘We ensure that claimants are given every opportunity to disclose information relevant to their claim before a decision is taken, even where that information may be sensitive or difficult to disclose.’
She added: ‘The Home Office will soon introduce transparent bespoke guidance for asylum decision-makers on gender identity and expression issues raised in asylum claims.’
Are improvements happening behind closed doors?
Some may see this as the UK government denying its failures. However, it appears small changes are happening behind closed doors.
Anitah Mbaziira, from Uganda, has faced rejection after rejection on her asylum claim.
She’s bisexual. Bisexual claimants often face bigotry from judges and officials.
When Anitah went to file her asylum claim, she had an interpreter. She used the word in her language (which doesn’t have a word for bisexual) and the interpreter told the Home Office she identified as gay. Later, she tried to explain what happened.
But she credits Gay Star News and the Rainbow Rush campaign for getting her protection.
‘If I am in Uganda, people will murder me,’ Anitah said. ‘My family don’t want to talk to me anymore.’
Two weeks ago, her lawyer called her. She now has asylum in the UK.
‘I’m really so relieved and so happy,’ she told GSN. ‘I now have protection. I’m now a free person.’
The entire process, including appealing the rejected claims, took three long years.
‘It was so difficult and very frustrating. One of the things I hated was going to London Bridge, every Monday, and waiting for two-and-a-half hours in the freezing cold to sign in. It’s just not right to treat us like criminals.’
Anitah is planning on going to university to study mental health.
‘I just want to help people now,’ she said.
Experts react to UK government response
Experts have reacted to the UK government response to the Rainbow Rush campaign.
‘We need more commitments,’ Edwin Sesange, an African LGBTI asylum rights advocate, told GSN.
‘The issue with the process is that it is not transparent. We can’t recommend better training without transparency. Because while staff may be getting better training, without transparency we don’t know whether it is being put into practice.’
Peter Tatchell, veteran human rights campaigner, also said the Home Office must deal with its ‘hostile environment’.
‘Home Office staff operate under the direction of a government that has created a hostile environment for immigrants and refugees,’ he told GSN.
‘The Prime Minister’s target is to cut the numbers granted residence in the UK. Home Office officials are under huge pressure to meet these targets and consequently they treat every LGBTI asylum applicant with disbelief; assuming they are fakes and frauds.
‘Home Office interpreters are a major problem. They get no training on sexual orientation and gender identity issues.
‘Many are originally from the homophobic countries that LGBTI refugees have fled from. They share the anti-LGBTI attitudes of their homelands. They are biased and unfit to interpret for LGBTI asylum applicants.’