Comment | The sad plight of asylum seekers

The past few weeks have seen further crack downs on illegal immigrants, along with a tightening of restrictions on access to public services. From ‘go home’ vans to fining landlords who rent to illegal immigrants, the government’s approach to immigration has been widely criticised as blunt and heavy handed. However, it is not just illegal immigrants who are affected by the air of suspicion surrounding newcomers to the country. In the UK right now there are 32,600 asylum seekers who have been due a decision on their status for over two years and some who have been waiting for up to 16. While not expressly illegal, asylum seekers are often stuck in a limbo where they can’t get work but can’t return home for fear of persecution.

In the last couple of weeks the topic of gay asylum seekers has been back in the public eye, thanks in part to Stephen Fry’s documentary Out There. Featured was Farshaad, a 28 year old Iranian refugee who had fled his country after being accused of raping his boyfriend. He is still awaiting news on his residence status and knows that if he is sent back to his own country he could be hanged. Recent reports have shown that, on their arrival in the UK, some LGBT asylum seekers are sometimes forced to somehow ‘prove’ that they are not heterosexual and cisgender. Some have even resorted to handing over highly personal videos or photographs of them having sex in order to validate their reasons for fleeing discrimination and oppression. In essence, we are asking people who have had to hide and suppress any evidence of them being gay to have that very evidence to hand when they apply for asylum here. In the cases of refugees from Commonwealth countries, their anti-gay laws often date back to colonial laws imposed upon them by the UK, making our responsibility to those suffering under them even more acute.

However, it is not only those who are fleeing for reasons the UK is ultimately to blame for that we have a responsibility to. In Britain we pride ourselves on being a liberal democracy, yet we apparently have every right to impose our views on other countries in the form of withdrawal of aid or even military intervention. The government makes it clear that global equality and human rights are important and part of that is helping those who are forced to flee abuses.

We have the privilege to live in an affluent western country and we should use our resources to help those who are most vulnerable. The asylum system in this country leaves people waiting years to confirm their residence status, allegedly puts strong cases to the bottom of the pile in order to fulfill their quota of people denied asylum and humiliates and demeans some of the most vulnerable people they deal with. We have a responsibility to overhaul the system if we are to claim that we treat asylum seekers with the full compassion that they deserve.

Becky Shortt

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