Suella Braverman. (Getty)
The Manston detention centre crisis is the latest in a long list of failures on asylum, with LGBTQ+ refugees among those at risk. But Suella Braverman is only making things worse, writes the Green Party’s migrant and refugee support spokesperson Benali Hamdache.
Manston Detention Centre is designed to hold a maximum of 1,600 people for 24 hours at a time. It is meant to quickly process people before they are sent to somewhere more suitable. Instead 4,000 people are being held in the centre for weeks on end, in overcrowded and distressing conditions. All because Suella Braverman cancelled booking needed hotels for managing refugees.
The conditions documented are inhumane and likely to be illegal. People are in squalid conditions, sleeping on mats on the floor in cold temperatures. Detainees aren’t being fed properly, don’t have enough clothes and at times have lacked access to showers. Sickness has spread and there have been outbreaks of scabies, diphtheria and norovirus. Suella Braverman has been warned by civil servants that she is breaking her legal obligations to look after those seeking asylum.
Refugees are being retraumatised in these conditions. Many have escaped political oppression, torture and violence only to be locked up by the UK government. It is utterly unacceptable. Suella Braverman should be ashamed that she is inflicting such suffering, all to win favourable coverage in the right wing press.
We should also be concerned about LGBTQI+ refugees and the conditions they’re facing.
Rainbow Migration is a charity that supports LGBTQI+ people trying to claim asylum in this country. Their research has well documented that detention centres like Manston are hostile spaces. Detainees have faced bigotry and discrimination from staff and from fellow detainees. Many come from countries where it is not safe to be openly LGBTQI+. Being held in a centre like Manston, in awful conditions, can force people back into the closet.
That can be really harmful for their asylum case. LGBTQI+ refugees have to “prove” their sexuality or their gender to be allowed to stay in this country. Again Rainbow Migration’s research has shown that LGBTQI+ refugees can face a hostile audience at the Home Office, with staff looking for evidence that is hard to provide. Claim handlers are often looking for evidence of living an out and proud life. How can you prove that inside detention?
These problems have existed for a long time, but Priti Patel and Suella Braverman have only made it worse. Priti Patel’s Nationality and Borders Bill made serious changes to how refugees were processed. She made it so any evidence that isn’t immediately disclosed can count against you later in the process. Her demand is that refugees should immediately disclose their sexuality or their gender, or else face disbelief later on. Never mind cultural stigma and trauma. Suella Braverman has only made it worse by making the conditions atrocious for those arriving in the UK.
The end result is that more LGBTQ+ refugees are likely to be rejected and sent back to countries of danger. Home Office statistics show that in 2020, 56 per cent of claims based on sexuality were denied. Thousands of refugees have been sent back to countries where being gay is illegal.
Theresa May’s LGBT+ Action Plan promised reform of how LGBTQ+ refugees would be treated. Successive Conservative governments have torn that promise up. As a Green I’m calling for that promise to be honoured.
The Nationality and Borders Bill should be torn up. Home Office staff need new processes that treat LGBTQ+ refugees with respect and understanding. Indefinite detention should be scrapped and we should support asylum seekers in the community. We should be working with our European neighbours to welcome refugees and provide a safe harbour for those in need. Finally Suella Braverman should be sacked. We can’t trust any home secretary that would treat refugees this way.