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Monday, 24 October 2011

Audio: LGBT asylum in UK: LibDems 'not happy', Labour 'ashamed'

By Paul Canning

The political party conference season has ended in the UK, marking the return to full time politics after the summer break. The season hosted a number of forums where LGBT issues were discussed, and this included LGBT asylum.

At two events, Labour representatives derided their record in government - one called it 'shameful'. The LGBT+ Liberal Democrat was fed up, "not happy, of having to lobby for individual cases. And the Conservatives? One attacked Labour's record, another said the whole system needed overhauling.

At the Labour Party conference LGBT fringe event, the Chief Executive of Stonewall Ben Summerskill, highlighted three things that had gone well over the first year of the Conservative-LiberalDemocrat government. One was "LGB+T asylum seekers not being sent back to countries where they face persecution".

On a round table for BBC Radio Manchester, LGBT+ LibDem Chair Adrian Trett said that LGBT asylum was a "key plank" of their work and that he was far too often lobbying in individual cases. Kevin Peel of LGBT Labour said that the previous government's record "is to Labour's utter shame" and said that his group had "attacked [the previous] government" over the issue. He 'would like to think we would have changed' if Labour had been re-elected in 2010. And he attacked the Coalition's record. The Conservative's Sean Anstey attacked Labour's record and professed his faith in Immigration Minister Damian Green.

There was no reporting of LGBT asylum being raised at the Conservative conference, save from Ben Summerskill (I assume) repeating that it was a Coalition success, however it did feature on the conference floor when Home Office Minister Theresa May's infamous #catgate mistake happened - which involved a gay immigrant, although that became clear only after the event.

Writing for Freedom From Torture, Camilla Jelbart-Mosse said that 'rational discussion' on asylum trumped hysteria at the Conservative conference, but she said that questions were left unanswered for refused asylum seekers living in limbo. Speaking to the conference Damian Green warned party members not to confuse protection via the UK's asylum system with general immigration before reminding everyone that asylum numbers have fallen dramatically in recent years.

Adrian Trett, James Asser (Labour), Matthew Sephton (Conservative) with special guest Claire Mooney answered a question on LGBT asylum at the Lesbian and Gay Foundation's 'Queer Question Time' in Manchester 2 October (audio below).

Trett said "I'm not happy" several times, noting that he was aware that week of one case of a gay Ugandan being removed. He said that the Coalition Agreement commitment - 'not to remove LGBT asylum seekers to danger' - was "not being enforced".

Asser said that the system is "rotten" and one reason why was because all parties are "pretty rotten" on and "run a bit scared" of asylum issues. "My party wasn't very good," he said. He said that training of civil servants remains a problem. Expanding this point in correspondence after the event, Asser said:
"It [isn't] just about the policy it .. also about implementation and the need for better training for and understanding from the people who have to administer the system and the rules."
Sephton said that the asylum system is "in chaos". He claimed that over the past decade there had been "numerous" people falsely claiming asylum and that people who deserve asylum were not getting it and the whole system needed "overhauling".

In none of the comments from party representatives on LGBT asylum which I have either heard or read were serious policy suggestions advanced on how the system could be improved. This contrasted sharply with detailed policy in other areas.

Perhaps most surprisingly, neither of the Coalition's representatives mentioned one substantial and potentially far-reaching change which the government has enacted to its credit - and which they are only the second government in the world to do - namely, recording sexuality-based asylum claims so we will have data on the level of refusals and removals, who they are, where they are from and why.

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