Governments change, the outrageous homophobic behaviour by the UK Border Agency stays the same:
Edson ‘Eddy’ Cosmas has lived and studied in London for several years. As a child, he spent time in Manchester whilst his father studied there. Eddy, a young, black, gay man from Tanzania, in east Africa, has built up a circle of friends and fellow students, and is determined to succeed in life. He has strong political beliefs, and never misses an opportunity to speak out in support of gay rights, immigrant rights and anti-racism campaigns.
On Monday 9th May, Eddy went to the Home Office in Croydon to submit an initial claim for asylum, and to take a screening interview. Long gone were the days of British immigration officials telling gay people seeking asylum to just ‘stay in the closet’, or to ‘act straight’; a ruling from the Supreme Court in July 2010 ordered that gay people could not be sent back to countries where they would face persecution for their sexuality. With this in mind, Eddy was understandably shocked when, at the end of his interview, he was detained and put into the back of a van.
Only then was he told that he was being taken to Harmondsworth detention centre. When I spoke to Edson in his cell at Harmondsworth on Thursday evening, via mobile phone, he sounds tired and frustrated, but determined to resist deportation.
“I’ve been here for ten days,” Eddy tells me. “They call it a ‘detention centre’, but really it is like a jail. We are locked up, and followed everywhere by security.”
The Supreme Court ruling was designed to end years of discriminatory, anti-gay immigration policies, but instead, it has had the opposite effect. Openly gay activists such as Eddy, who should be automatically granted asylum under the landmark ruling, are being ‘fast-tracked’; held without their right to access to a lawyer of their choice, and scheduled for hastily-arranged hearings, and quick deportations.
“If I am sent back to Tanzania,” Eddy says on the phone, “I am facing being beaten, or death. The immigration officials told me that they didn’t believe me; I said to them, I am the one that has lived in Tanzania, not you, so how can you tell me whether this is true or not?”
The UK Border Agency has long shown itself to be disinterested in basic human decency, let alone holding to the rule of law. Sign this petition right now to send Theresa May a signal. How appalling that a Home Office which trumpets how well it treats its own gay staff, should continue to treat the most vulnerable gay people it’s responsible for in this way.
The UK Border Agency is yet again trying to deport asylum seekers who are gay or who are thought to be gay back to Uganda. Uganda remember is the country which until very recently was debating passing a bill in their parliament which would punish homosexuality by death. Imagine what sort of attitudes are fuelling that level of hatred, and imagine what effects such mainstream views would have on how people treat gay people or people who are thought to be gay. How can the Home Office, allegedly a champion of gay rights for its staff, still be indifferent to the consequences of homophobia abroad? Others agree:
Emma Ginn, co-ordinator of Medical Justice, said: “Despite compelling medical evidence, the UK Border Agency disbelieves Ms Tibikawa’s story. UKBA do not dispute that Ms Tibikawa has scars caused by a hot flat iron, but conclude that she did not suffer any ill-treatment in Uganda. We condemn the fact that they intend to deport Ms Tibakawa to a country where being gay is illegal and puts your life at risk.”
Human Rights Watch spokeswoman Gauri van Gulik said: “Our research has shown that many cases of women like Betty are not taken seriously by the UK Border Agency. Unfortunately women who suffer this kind of violence have serious difficulty claiming asylum.”
Betty Tibakawa, a young lesbian living in Uganda, had gone for a walk on the beach when she was approached by three men she did not know, but who knew her by reputation, who began taunting her about her sexuality.
They took her to a disused building where she was violently assaulted. The men kicked her in the stomach, pinned her down and branded her inner thighs with hot irons. She lost consciousness and when she woke up, the men were gone. Her injuries were so severe that she could not leave her home for two months.
In February, Ugandan magazine Red Pepper outed Betty as a lesbian, publishing an article about her illustrated with photos, and the claim that she is ‘wanted’ for being a lesbian.
It has become incredibly dangerous for her to return to Uganda, where she has been disowned by her family and faces the risk of violent persecution for being gay.
Betty Tibakawa has had her asylum application turned down and is facing deportation back to Uganda, where homosexuality is illegal. Gay women who are deported to Uganda risk being raped and assaulted whilst they are in custody.
We are petitioning the Home Office to overrule this decision from the UK Border Agency, to give Betty the chance to live a life free from violence and fear. No one should be deported to country where they will be persecuted for their sexuality. We owe those seeking asylum in this country better than this.
Please sign the petition from this page.
Petition put together by Betty Tibakawa’s Campaign Group.
People are being killed in Uganda for being gay, and the ConDems are making a huge play about being gay friendly and more civil liberties friendly than their New Labour predecessors, but is Theresa May’s Home Office any less blind to homophobia against asylum seekers than Alan Johnson’s or Jacqui Smith’s? Read the story of Brenda Namigadde, who faces deportation to Uganda, where her life will be without question at risk:
Inside Yarl’s Wood detention centre, awaiting deportation to Uganda in less than 24 hours, Brenda Namigadde is desperate.
Namigadde fled her home country eight years ago after being persecuted for her relationship with another woman. She says she has always intended to return home when “things were better”. But things, she says, have just got worse.
After the murder of the gay Ugandan activist David Kato and with a chilling warning from Ugandan MP David Bahati ringing in her ears, she says she fears her life is over. Bahati, the author of a bill which would impose the death penalty on homosexuals, intervened in Namigadde’s case to warn her she should “repent” or be arrested on her return.
Speaking from Yarl’s Wood, Namigadde, 29, says: “My life is in danger. I don’t know what will happen to me. I’m very scared. I haven’t eaten, I haven’t slept.”
She knows from experience what returning to her country will mean for her, she says. “I’ll be tortured, or killed, if I’m sent back. They’ve put people like me to death there.”
My point is this: even if the UK Border Agency were convinced (which they are) that she’s not gay (she demonstrably is), using the argument they always fall back on that ‘anyone could claim asylum by just pretending to be gay’, how could she morally be repatriated if Ugandan homophobes are on public record threatening her life anyway? The agency, a branch of the supposedly gay-friendly Home Office (don’t make me laugh, Stonewall), may not have suggested she just go home and ‘be discreet’ as they did under New Labour with gay Iranian asylum seekers, but just saying ‘she can’t prove she’s gay’ is surely no more acceptable.
Her asylum claim was turned down partly on the basis that the judge did not believe there was any evidence that she was homosexual.
Matthew Coats, head of immigration at the UK Border Agency, said her case had been considered by both the UK Border Agency and the courts on two separate occasions. “She has been found not to have a right to remain here,” he said. “An Immigration Judge found on the evidence before him that Ms Namigadde was not homosexual.”
What should she do to prove her sexual orientation? Have sex with a woman in front of a judge? For that matter is Coats suggesting that the story the Guardian reports of her past relationship is a lie? I’d be interested to know what criteria the UK Border Agency uses to prove whether or not someone is ‘homosexual’, and whether or not they take into account whether or not other people, even erroneously, believe they’re gay. The coalition agreement says:
“We will stop the deportation of asylum seekers who have had to leave particular countries because their sexual orientation or gender identification puts them at proven risk of imprisonment, torture or execution.”
And what about the http://madikazemi.blogspot.com/2011/01/in-uk-new-instructions-on-deciding-lgbt.html, forcibly updated by the Supreme Court?
Brenda Namigadde must not be deported to Uganda.
Yet again a ‘failed’ asylum seeker has suffered brutalisation by the state, but this time the agency contracted out to ‘remove’ him killed him:
Police are investigating the death of [Jimmy] Mubenga, a 46-year-old Angolan who lost consciousness when three G4S guards attempted to restrain him on British Airways Flight 77 flight on Tuesday night. He was later taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead. No arrests have been made.
On Thursday two passengers told the Guardian that guards placed Mubenga in handcuffs and heavily restrained him while the aircraft was still on the runway. One said Mubenga complained of breathing problems before passing out.
[Witness] Michael said he heard Mubenga complain he was unable to breathe.
“I’m pretty sure it will turn out to be asphyxiation,” he said. “The last thing we heard the man say was he couldn’t breathe. We had three security guards and each one of them looked like they weighed 100kg plus, bearing down and holding him down – from what I could see below the seats.”
Michael described as “completely false” the official accounts of Mubenga’s death, released by the Home Office and G4S on Wednesday.
The Home Office said a deportee had been “taken ill” while on the flight. G4S used similar wording, saying Mubenga “became unwell”, forcing the flight to return to Heathrow. “Sadly, the detainee passed away upon arrival at the hospital,” the statement said.
This is far from abnormal for the UK Border Agency, and their account is contradicted by another witness:
Kevin Wallis, a passenger on the aircraft, said he had been sitting across the aisle from Mubenga and watched as three security guards restrained him with what he believed to be excessive force.
Wallis said he heard Mubenga complain: “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe” for at least 10 minutes before he lost consciousness, and later observed that handcuffs had been used in the restraint.
Our asylum system is entirely bereft of compassion and common sense. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/oct/15/deportation-jimmy-mubenga-borders:
Anyone employed as an immigration adviser, as I am, is aware of the use and abuse of state-sanctioned force against immigrants that lies just beneath the Home Office UK Border Agency‘s “firm but fair” rhetoric. I’ll never forget representing a 24-year-old Ugandan woman who was HIV-positive and weighed only six stone, who bravely spoke out to the BBC about her treatment by officers inside Colnbrook immigration removal centre: “Two were holding my arms, two were holding my legs and then they hit my head on the floor,” she said. “I was feeling pain and then they twisted my arms and pressed my head on the bed. “I couldn’t breathe and then I was shouting ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe’ but they were just twisting it harder.” For his part, Tom Riall, chief executive of the home affairs division of Serco, which runs Colnbrook, said staff there do their jobs “with care and decency and considerable respect for all of those in our charge”. “We only use physical restraint as a last resort,” he added.
She also explains why:
But the raison d’etre for this inhumanity is public enough: it is UK government policy to remove more people. An intensification of border control inevitably sacrifices a human approach: from visa national lists to the criteria of the UK’s points-based immigration system, the focus is on particular nationalities or categories of people to exclude from the UK. Target-driven deportation and removal statistics dictate who leaves and when, rather than the needs and desires of the individual human being at stake. Under this political agenda, the UK has become part of a “fortress Europe” that is spending ever more money and force on controlling human movements and on securing its borders.
This is the problem, and it’s resulted in a cowardly and racist immigration policy to placate the country’s Daily HateMail readers, rather than one which reasonably addresses the serious issues surrounding international migration. It led to Jacqui Smith’s Home Office’s disinterest in reprieves for LGBT asylum seekers from being sent back to countries such as Uganda and Iran, it leads to the destitution of ‘failed’ asylum seekers while they’re in the UK and doesn’t acknowledge the genuine social and economic needs of the UK economy. New Labour has gone but it’s left behind a legacy of mistrust of asylum seekers, whom it frequently conflated with economic migrants – just take a look at this comment about his criminal record:
Hmm, I see that the author makes no reference to :
In 2006, Mubenga was convicted of actual bodily harm after a brawl in a nightclub and given a two-year sentence.
From the linked Guardian article. So he had a history of violence and had broken the law in this country. What were the guards supposed to do, bring him tea & biscuits?
His death is to be regretted, but not the deportation or the policy behind deportation. Especially for conviced criminals who have abused this country’s hospitality.
Should that give the state the right to cause his death and then lie about it? What sort of society are we becoming?
“We have been on hunger strike since Friday protesting about the length of time we have spent in detention here,” said Aisha, who has been in Yarl’s Wood for three months. “We have been locked in the hallway all day – five ladies have fainted because they have not eaten since Friday. No one has come to give them any medical attention.
“I had an asthma attack, but no one would come to give me my inhaler. I’m very weak. But we will stay on hunger strike for as long as it takes.”
Campaigners condemned the response of the authorities at the centre, accusing them of using a “kettling” technique to trap the women.
“The women are currently trapped in an airless hallway,” said Cristel Amiss, of Black Women’s Rape Action Project. “Women should be allowed back into their rooms immediately; there should be an immediate investigation.”
The Home Office confirmed the disturbance, saying that 40 women were involved, and insisted the measures were temporary until the women could be reintegrated into the centre.
“The wellbeing of detainees is of paramount concern, which is why healthcare staff are at the scene to monitor developments,” said David Wood, strategic director at the UK Border Agency. “The detainees will be integrated back into the centre at the earliest opportunity.”
The women’s demands are listed on this Facebook page. There will be a demonstration against Serco, who manage the immigration detention centre, on 12th February.
When we dehumanise other human beings we lose part of what makes us human. If I had the time and resources I would have gladly attended the protests at the ‘Jungle’ outside Calais, the camp from which the mainly Afghan refugees were forcibly removed this week. Sadly though I had to watch from afar again, as people in search of a better life were deemed unacceptable, and unworthy of the human rights to which they are entitled. Jason Parkinson’s piece below shows you the brutal reality of what happened:
When French immigration minister Eric Besson calls the Calais “jungle” camp clearance a “dignified” success, Alan Johnson expresses his “delight” and immigration minister Phil Woolas questions whether these refugees deserve sanctuary, they expose the asylum system as profoundly broken.
What I saw at 8am on Tuesday was not dignified or humane. Men were wrestled and thrown to the ground, others head-locked and throttled. One boy collapsed and was removed. Not by the police, but by protesters.
As Parkinson points out, EU law says that asylum seekers must claim asylum in the first country they land in. But it’s an horrific cop out to suggest to people genuinely fleeing persecution in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq or Eritrea (few of whom will do so by air) can only claim asylum in member states which are essentially the closest to them. Italy? With its current persecution of Roma? Greece? With its treatment of refugees? That system has resulted in:
illegal push-backs of migrants at the Turkish border, the puncturing of boats in the Aegean Sea, deplorable conditions of detention, police brutality, and various legal and administrative tricks to keep asylum seekers from lodging a claim, all of which Human Rights Watch exhaustively documented in two reports published late last year.
The Dublin Convention is clearly a failure, yet Britain and France express delight at the prospect of sending refugees back to the first EU country they entered, which in many cases for refugees formerly living in the Calais ‘jungle’ was Greece. This is particularly alarming considering many fellow EU governments have stopped transferring asylum seekers back there. Yet immigration minister Phil Woolas:
rejected suggestions that (even) those (merely) with family links should be allowed to come to Britain to claim asylum: “If they were asylum seekers they would have claimed asylum in France or in the first country they came to,” he said. The home secretary said “genuine refugees” would be offered protection if they claimed asylum in the first safe country they reached. The rest were expected to go home.
Such compassion. No doubt there will be economic migrants in their number, no doubt hardened criminals too. But to dismiss the genuine needs and concerns of refugees, and falling back on an asylum system which benefits neither refugee nor host country is just monstrous. Green Party leader Caroline Lucas MEP has spoken out, saying:
“Rather than fulfilling their responsibilities to seekers of asylum under both EU and international law, the French and British governments are turning a blind eye to the suffering taking place on their own doorsteps. Home Secretary Alan Johnson‘s glee in the wake of this aggressive police raid is particularly disturbing.
“The plan for mass deportations of these refugees rides roughshod over the European Convention on Human Rights, the 1951 Refugee Convention and the Geneva Convention. And given that so many facing expulsion are children, the plans may also breach the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“This short term ‘solution’ is not only inhumane – it will not work. The French are not playing their part in allowing people to claim asylum in Calais, and must commit to making the official procedures for seeking asylum more accessible to those in need. Equally, other EU Member states must recognise their duty to share the responsibility.”