Abuse, Neglect & Transphobia: The Treatment of Trans Asylum Seekers
This article was written by Bethany Morris, a content writer for the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation of UK immigration lawyers providing legal support for those looking to migrate to the UK or hire overseas workers.
Since the Stonewall Riots of 1969, advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights and the implementation of protective legislation for the community has grown. As societal attitudes have changed, policy has shifted to reflect this. However, with the UK’s withdrawal from the EU fast approaching, the fundamental rights of the LGBTQ+ community are under threat and policy risks going from progression to regression, taking with it the safety and security of its LGBTQ+ community.
The rights of members of the UK LGBTQ+ community are currently protected by EU legislation such as the Charter of Fundamental Rights. At present, this legislation is the only human rights document that openly protects individuals on the basis of sexual orientation.
However, with Brexit comes big risks, as the Government has openly declared their plans to abolish the charter with the UK’s departure from the EU. Although all individuals currently protected by the charter will be impacted, transgender individuals are expected to be left without adequate legal protection which will prove a challenge to trans people seeking refuge in the UK.
Despite its abolition, Theresa May’s Hostile Environment Policy has still managed to hold an unprecedented amount of influence over the functionality of the UK’s immigration system. Although Sajid Javid has spoke of ‘distancing himself’ from the policy, high refusal rates for certain minorities and mistreatment from authorities are common and unfortunately, trans asylum seekers are no strangers to inadequate and abusive treatment.
According to current asylum laws in the UK, an individual can claim asylum if they can prove that they fear, or are at risk, of persecution in their home country for reasons such as religion, sexual orientation or race. This requirement has created a host of issues in itself, one being the requirement for trans applicants to provide irrefutable proof of their gender identity. Not only is this request invasive, but it puts those who have been forced to conceal their identities in their home countries in a paradoxical situation with contradictory premises. Applicants whose requests for asylum are based on their sexuality face lower acceptance rates than others too. In 2017, of 1,887 applicants who applied for asylum on the basis of sexuality, only 423 were accepted.
In 2016, UKLGIG released a report titled ‘No Safe Refuge’ in which LGBTQ+ asylum applicants in detention across the UK were interviewed and discussed the extent of their mistreatment by authorities. One interviewee told Stonewall how she was continually placed in male detention centers despite explicitly stating she was a woman. The detention centre continually failed to take adequate measures to ensure her safety and her story is just one of many. Some spoke of how officers asked questions designed specifically to target them for ‘explicit content’, even though the Home Office ‘strongly discouraged’ this in 2015. All asylum seekers are required to provide witness statements attesting their sexuality however, as most were persecuted in their home countries, getting these statements is not only dangerous but almost impossible too, since seekers are already detained at this point in the process.
Nick Antjoule, the head of hate crime services at LGBT anti-violence charity Galop, has stated that over the past few years there has been a huge spike in ‘transphobic hostility’ which can be corroborated by statistics obtained by the BBC, which have documented a surge in transphobic hate crime of as much as 81% across the UK. Following a 2017 report by Stonewall, Laura Russell the campaign director of the charity, pointed to the stigmatisation of gender identity in ‘the front pages of newspapers, to social media and on our streets’ to suggest that a shift in attitudes has played an instrumental role in such a sharp increase in hate crime.
For those already vulnerable and seeking refuge, to be met with hostility by those with a duty of care is deeply concerning. A rise in hate crime towards trans people only exacerbates this and without action, particularly during ongoing Brexit negotiations, the UK risks taking a step backwards and jeopardizing the rights of the LGBTQ+ community even further.
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