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Thursday, 8 July 2010

We must challenge myths on LGBT asylum

By Paul Canning

The British right-wing press is all over the Supreme Court decision on LGBT asylum seekers, and it's not pretty.

The coverage immediately reminded me of the worst homophobic newspaper articles and opinion pieces carried by the likes of The Daily Mail, Express and Sun newspapers in the eighties and nineties.

Lord Rodger's comments comparing a stereotypical 'straight lifestyle' with a gay one - designed to explain that being gay is not just about sex - were leaped on in the Express front-page and the Mail headline 'Supreme Court Judge says homosexual asylum seekers should be allowed to stay because 'gays must be free to enjoy Kylie concerts and cocktails'.

But it is The Daily Star's Editorial which repeats every single myth and which reflects extremely widely held myths about both LGBT and asylum seekers in general. They said:
Opening the floodgates to gay asylum seekers is absolute madness.

The idea is bound to be abused. Every illegal desperate to get into Britain will try claiming they’re gay to ensure they stay here.

Some people will do whatever it takes if it means a cushy life in Britain.

This cannot be allowed to happen. The Supreme Court doesn’t want to send back anyone who fears they may suffer in their home country because they’re gay.

That’s admirable ideology. But it’s not practical in the real world.

Their ruling means millions more people will now be eligible to stay in Britain.

And the resulting flood of numbers could push our creaking infrastructure over the edge.

We simply cannot afford to keep taking the world’s outcasts.

Britain is struggling with record debt and millions out of work.

We must look after our own first.

This decision must be overturned.

We cannot solve the world’s problems on our own.
It is true that some people have claimed to be gay when they are not - I know of cases myself. But it is not true that it is not possible to show that you are gay - and therefore to weed out false claimants.

Proving your sexuality is what happens in every single existing LGBT asylum case. It is a matter of marshaling evidence and is not easy but every person reading this (or The Daily Star) could do it if you had to, whether straight, gay or bisexual.

The next argument is one widely held, 'opening the floodgates', and has a long history in the UK going right back to the beginning of panics around immigration in the Victorian era - see Panikos Panayi's fantastic article in The Independent 'Pride and prejudice: The Victorian roots of a very British ambivalence to immigration'.

In the Supreme Court decision coverage the 'expert' constantly quoted is right-wing activist Sir Andrew Green from MigrationWatch UK, who rather insanely claims the decision will lead to 'flooding' by 'millions' of gays. I reported on Tuesday on his appearance on a BBC radio FiveLive phone-in and herin lies the problem. His claims were not challenged.

There are two answers to his ridiculous claims:
  • If it were the case 'millions' would already be claiming asylum on religious grounds
  • If it were the case 'millions' would be 'flooding' countries which have already removed the 'discretion test', such as Australia, or those which very publicly welcome LGBT refugees, such as Canada. Of course this is not happening.
There was another commonly-held myth which was echoed by Green from a caller raising it, that's the idea that refugees are supposed to go to the nearest country, which means never the UK. The Star's line "we cannot solve the world’s problems on our own" partly echoes this. Must claim in the 'first safe country' is solely about the European Union under the Dublin Regulation and is actually a source of huge friction in Italy and Greece through which many migrants travel and is thus likely to be revised. Just this example of how migration into the EU actually occurs shows that the UK is far away from taking its fair share of refugees. (See EU asylum applicants 2009 which proves that other countries take far more.)

Most refugees are created as a result of wars and currently Iraqis and Afghans are some of the biggest groups. It is somewhat hypocritical for people to agree to be involved in such wars and then expect poorer countries like Pakistan or Syria to bear alone the resultant burden of looking after refugees. In world terms we take very few refugees - infact the Americans complain about it. This ignorance on where refugees come from and why they exist is definitely because the media in the UK refuses to explain.

Unfortunately Green's 'claim in the first safe country' myth again went unchallenged on the BBC radio phone-in.

Some groups have recognised the need to constantly challenge the myths, but not all. I would have suggested for example that Stonewall included them as part of the media information and that made available to the public with its recent report. If British people, including many LGBT people if you read comments on articles in the LGBT media, believe them then politicians of course feel the pressure to react. I think this explains most of the actions of the last government on asylum.

"Fleeing is never voluntary, asylum means survival". Austrian UNHCR poster.
Refugee Action has some excellent resources here, as does Salford Council, but we need more like the campaign launched by UNHCR in Austria earlier this year.

Here's another one on ivillage which covers:
  • Myth one: Britain is a soft touch
  • Myth two: people come here to 'sponge' from the British benefit system
  • Myth three: they are coming to steal our jobs
  • Myth four: they don't integrate with the local population
  • Myth five: newspapers are reliable sources of information on the asylum issue

The bottom line with the Supreme Court decision is that it's about that discrimination must be removed from the system. The judges again and again come back to that LGBT should be treated the same - no worse, no better - than heterosexuals. The right-wing press coverage is partly about 'foreigners coming here, taking our jobs' - the old joke - but it is also about base homophobia. To make gains for LGBT asylum seekers and to eliminate discrimination we must challenge both the problems they have as LGBT and those they have as asylum seekers - and that means fighting the myths.

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