At least 76 LGBT+ asylum seekers were detained in immigration removal centres across the UK between 1 January and 18 November 2016, Attitude can exclusively reveal. The figures were obtained by multiple Freedom of Information (FoI) requests.
The data provided also shows that at least 19 LGBT+ asylum seekers were still in detention at the time the requests for information were submitted (18 November).
In both instances the true figures are likely to be higher because four of the removal centres stated they did not hold information regarding the total number of queer detainees held throughout the year.
Due to data protection laws, it is also not possible to verify the exact number of LBGT+ asylum seekers in any detention centre where less than five have been held. According to the Home Office, in this situation a parameter is added to ensure individuals are not identifiable.
The data also doesn’t account for the many asylum seekers who are not out about their identity, for fear of persecution or the risk of violence.
At the time the FoI requests were submitted, the Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre, close to Heathrow airport, was detaining 10 LGBT+ asylum seekers, the highest out of all the detention centres which supplied information. The nearby Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre was the second highest, with five.
Between 1 January and 18 November 2016, The Verne, an immigration removal centre on the isle of Portland, Dorset, operated by the prison service, had detained 43 LGBT+ asylum seekers, over the 10-month period.
The statistics show that despite the well-documented abuses LGBT+ asylum seekers have faced in detention centre, dozens were still detained over the course of the 10 months.
The statistics can be read below.
In a response to a separate FoI request, the Home Office confirmed that fewer than five LGBT+ asylum seekers were detained at the Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre, in Bedfordshire, between 1 January 2016 and 30 September, when the request was submitted.
The Home Office also confirmed that service providers running the detention centres on its behalf are not required to keep a record of the numbers of individuals in detention who identify as LGBT.
Paul Dillane, the executive director of the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG), said: “It is quite shocking that no stats were obtained for Harmondsworth and Colnbrook, given they comprise one of the largest detention centres in the whole of Europe.
“These partial figures represent just the tip of the iceberg. In recent years, UKLGIG has worked with hundreds of LGBT asylum seekers who have been incarcerated in detention centres across the UK. Seeking asylum is not a crime yet the Home Office has routinely locked up LGBT people fleeing torture, imprisonment and even death.”
In October last year, UKLGIG, along with Stonewall, published a report, No Safe Refuge, based on 22 in-depth interviews, about the conditions LGBT+ asylum seekers faced in detention centred.
The report detailed how queer asylum seekers faced discrimination and harassment while detained, both from staff and other detainees, how staff failed to protect them from abuse and how detainees were unable to pursue their legal claim fairly while being detained.
Trans asylum seekers were found to be particularly vulnerable to threats of violence; one interviewee stated she’d been placed in multiple male detention centres.
Dillane continues: “Our report demonstrates that bullying, abuse and harassment is rife in these brutal detention centres. It is a terrible irony that LGBT+ asylum seekers are all too often forced to fight to ‘prove’ their sexual orientation or gender identity to secure refugee status while desperately hiding the same from fellow detainees for fear of discrimination or violence.”
The harsh nature of detention has proved detrimental to the mental health of LGBT+ detainees, a group that already suffers disproportionately from mental health issues. The situation is worsened by the fact that the UK still practises indefinite detention and detainees are often given little indication about how long they will be held.
“The UK cannot credibly claim to be a global leader on LGBT rights while it continues to subject LGBT refugees to discrimination, disbelief and indefinite detention,” says Dillane. “The immigration detention system is in need of fundamental reform. We demand the Home Office immediately end the detention of LGBT and other vulnerable people.”
Asylum claimants are often given very little warning that they are to be detained. Lydia Nabukenya is a Ugandan lesbian who arrived in the UK in 2015, having fled her home after suffering persecution. Her asylum application was rejected in January 2016 and when she returned to submit a new claim she was detained.
“As soon as I entered… they were asking me questions like: ‘What’s the birth date of your partner… do you have any family here?’ I said ‘No, I only have my partner,” recalls Nabukenya. “They told me today you are not going back home, you have been detained, you have no case. It was like 15 minutes, not even 15 minutes. They told me I was to be detained. I was shocked…I was like, ‘Why? I have my formal submissions’. We called the Home Office and they gave me an appointment.”
With no credit on her phone, she was unable to call her partner, Margaret, to let her know the situation. Nabukenya was put in a car, taken to Manchester airport and flown to Yarl’s Wood. She arrived at the facility with two other asylum seekers who had been collected from various police stations on the way.
After spending a few hours in the facility, she was released, with little explanation.
Nabukenya is now due to attend a formal meeting arranged by the Home Office on 23 March, where she will submit her new claim for asylum. A petition will be delivered to Robert Goodwill, minister of state for immigration, calling for her claim to be accepted.
When asked what modules and training were in place to better protect LGBT+ asylum seekers, and whether there were any plans to stop their indefinite detention, a Home Office spokesperson said: “We remain committed to improving the asylum process for those claiming asylum on the basis of their sexual orientation and decision-makers are provided with dedicated guidance and training on the management of such claims.
“Last September, the Government introduced the ‘adult at risk’ concept into decision-making on immigration detention, with a clear presumption that vulnerable people who may be at risk of particular harm in detention should not be detained, building on the existing legal framework.
“We have worked closely with organisations such as Stonewall, the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to develop specific guidance and training and we continue to liaise with them to consider what further improvements can be made.”