Global LGBT Rights

Part of Modern Slavery Act 2015 – in the House of Commons at 4:34 pm on 26th October 2017.

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Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 4:34 pm, 26th October 2017

We have had an excellent debate this afternoon. I pay particular tribute to Nick Herbert and his all-party parliamentary group on global LGBT rights for being instrumental in securing the debate.

I suggest that the litmus test of how much we in the United Kingdom really care about global LGBT rights is how we treat LGBT+ people who come to the United Kingdom, seeking sanctuary, from countries where they have been persecuted. Sadly, our record on that is not all it might be.

Yesterday, at Prime Minister’s questions, I raised with the Prime Minister new guidance put out by the Home Office recently—earlier this year—on Afghanistan, suggesting that gay asylum seekers can return to Afghanistan if they pretend to be straight. That guidance flies in the face of the Supreme Court decision referred to by my hon. Friend Stuart C. McDonald. I was disappointed yesterday when I sought an undertaking from the Prime Minister that the Home Office would stop the practice of deporting LGBT+ people to Afghanistan with the instruction that they pretend to be straight, and she was not able to give me that undertaking on the spot. If she wants to go to the PinkNews awards and be lauded as an advocate of LGBT rights, she should know what is going on in her own Government, but she did not seem to know about that. I am glad to say, however, that the Home Secretary has approached me and said that she will look into the issue carefully.

This country is one of the few in Europe that detain people who have come here as LGBT asylum seekers. On this very date a year ago, Stonewall and the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group—I pay tribute to UK LGIG for helping me to prepare my short speech today—produced a report, “No Safe Refuge”, which detailed the experiences of asylum seekers in detention in this country. People who have come to the countries of the United Kingdom seeking sanctuary have been held in UK detention centres, where they have been asked about their past and had bad experiences with homophobic staff and other asylum seekers. Their physical and emotional wellbeing has been affected in detention and their access to health and legal services has been restricted. The report exposed many lapses in standards, with staff often ill-equipped to deal with LGBT people. Many of the people interviewed recounted shocking instances of homophobia at every level of our system, from guards to other detainees, interpreters and even legal representatives.

We must look at how we treat people fleeing persecution in other countries because they are LGBT+ who come to the United Kingdom looking for sanctuary. This morning, my office spoke to Paul Dillane, the executive director at UK LGIG. He told us that, a year since the report on the treatment of LGBT asylum seekers in detention was published, there has still been no formal response from the Government. If we in the United Kingdom want to promote ourselves as supportive of LGBT+ rights and if we want to stand here and criticise other countries that are not, we must, across the parties, tackle the disgraceful treatment that some LGBTI+ asylum seekers and refugees receive in the United Kingdom. I hope that the Minister responding to the debate will note what I have said and pass it on to the relevant Department. It simply will not do to pose as great defenders of LGBTI+ rights when we treat people who come to this country seeking sanctuary so badly.