Rainbow Sisters, a group of 70 lesbian, bisexual and trans women and non-binary people who have sought asylum in the UK, respond to the consultation on the government’s proposed new plan for immigration.

The group strongly opposes the new plan, which is dangerous for LGBT+ people seeking asylum.

Please read and share the group’s concerns about these harmful plans:

Equality Question:

We are concerned about the impact of these plans on women and LGBT people, with the protected characteristics of sex, sexual orientation and gender re-assignment.

We are a group of more than 70 women and non-binary people who have sought asylum in this country. Twenty-four of us now have refugee status here, but all of us have struggled in the asylum process and we are very concerned that key proposals in this plan would make things even harder for people like us.

First, we are very concerned about proposals to differentiate between vulnerable people who need safety, depending on how they came into this country.

It is neither realistic nor fair to expect women who are in danger due to their gender identity or sexual orientation to rely on resettlement as a route to safety. This is because not all of us can safely access a resettlement programme. Some of us would be targeted if our governments found out about our attempts to flee. Lots of us wouldn’t feel secure in disclosing our sexual identity before we’ve reached a stable place of safety.

All of us know what it is like to live our lives in hiding, unable to speak to anyone about who we truly are, knowing that we have to keep silent if we are to survive. All of us have faced the fear of violence if our secrets are known. Many of us have experienced extreme violence, including sexual violence, by members of our communities or by the authorities as punishment if they suspected out sexuality.

For instance, please read this article by a bisexual woman who had to flee very suddenly and secretly, as otherwise she would have faced the death penalty, in Saudi Arabia.

Also, many of us were actually brought to this country against our will. While we were not safe in our home countries, we were also not safe on our journeys, which many of us made in the hands of traffickers. Those of us who were brought by traffickers did not choose to be brought here and then we were often forced to work as domestic workers or sex workers. It is unjust to punish us for the crimes of our traffickers.

If you condemn us to temporary settlement we would never feel safe. The prospect of potentially being refused after 30 months and removed, despite the Home Office recognising that we are refugees, would hang over us and crush us.  Without getting permanent settlement, we would never have the chance to heal from the trauma that we have suffered. We would never be able to plan our lives. We would never be able to contribute to society, to build families and relationships and put down roots. It is inhumane to do this to us.

Second, this plan proposes a ‘one-stop’ process where we would have to bring all the evidence and go through all of our claim for protection immediately on arrival in the UK at the start of the process. This is utterly unrealistic. Many of us have never come out as gay or bisexual when we arrive in the country, we may need time to come to terms with the shame that has been forced on us, and to find the support we need to speak openly about our sexuality or gender identity.

Even when we start to speak and live more openly, we have all struggled to find good legal advice to enable us to understand what evidence we need to collect or what we need to explain about our situations. Many of us have been let down by incompetent lawyers who gave us damaging advice and did no work on our cases. Many of us did not know that, even if we have fled in fear of our lives, we are able to make a claim for asylum based on our sexuality. Many of us have struggled to find the mental health support we need to be able to relive the trauma of violence that we have passed through, and to recount it to the authorities here. Some of us have needed time to get away from our traffickers and to feel safe from reprisal before we can speak about how we were brought to this country.

In other words, it often takes a lot of time for LGBT people to be able to get a fair assessment One of us got refugee status after 8 years, she speaks on BBC Woman’s Hour here, when she had experienced a first refusal and was living destitute and in fear of deportation.

Another of us got her refugee status after 20 years. She too was initially refused and detained in Yarl’s Wood, but when she had good support and legal advice she was able to get a fair assessment and she now has refugee status. She describes what it was like to spend so long in the asylum system here.

We agree that the asylum process could be much more fairer and efficient. But the way to do that is to ensure that people are given the mental health support and legal advice they need to make their claims fully at the outset, not to punish them if they need more time to gather their evidence and find support. If the Home Office wants things to be more efficient, it is important that it puts its own house in order and make sure it responds to claims in a timely way and arranges first interviews promptly Many of us wait for months and years to hear from the Home Office, and now you want to punish us by trying to speed things up unfairly.

There are other aspects of this new plan for immigration which will also have a disproportionate impact on LGBT asylum-seekers. For instance, the use of reception centres could be very unsafe for those of us who often face violence and ostracism from our communities because of our sexuality.

There are also aspects of this plan which are very unclear to us and the Home Office needs to be much clearer about what it is planning and to look at the way that it will impact people who are LGBT and seeking asylum. We are already some of the most disadvantaged and marginalised people in this country. These plans will put us at even more risk of harm.


Last question: Is there any other feedback…

We agree that the asylum process does need to be reformed, but the Home Office needs to approach this in a different way, based on humanity and compassion.

We would particularly suggest four reforms that would benefit asylum seekers and society as a whole.

First of all, we would like to have the right to education and work so that we can improve our skills and be useful members of society. At the moment the trauma that those seeking asylum have fled through is made worse by being condemned to years of uncertainty in the asylum process, without the ability to be educated or to work.  This leaves us all anxious, depressed and unable to contribute to society.

Second, there needs to be more investment in legal aid. In order to be able to tell our stories clearly to the Home Office and to get a fair hearing, we need better legal advice. There are not enough good lawyers who understand what we have gone through and explain the evidence we need to collect. This means that many people get unfair refusals and this means that the system becomes slow and expensive.

Third, everyone needs the right to support and housing. Many of us are exploited in the UK because of our poverty and insecurity. The Home Office pushes refugee women into unsafe situations because we need a roof over our heads and food to eat. Many of our sisters who have been abused in their home country come to this country and find that the hostile environment and destitution leave them vulnerable to further abuse.

Fourth, people seeking asylum should not be held in detention. The experience of detention has left scars on many of us. It is inhumane and also unnecessary to lock up women who are seeking safety in this country. Many of us who were detained were later recognised as refugees, so it is clear that detention is unjust.

Above all, we want to tell you that we are women who have fled danger, and all we are asking for is a chance to have a fair hearing and to rebuild our lives in safety. We would like to be able to meet with the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, and explain our situation to her. We hear that she said in Parliament, ‘Where are the vulnerable women that the system is meant to protect?’ We would like to say to her, that we are here and we are ready to meet with her.


Update: You can read Women for Refugee Women’s full response to the sham-consultation on this government’s proposed new plan for immigration here.