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.
So this is the important bit in the Deputy Prime Minister’s speech, promising a bright, new, un-authoritarian future, with:
Landmark legislation, from politicians who refused to sit back and do nothing while huge swathes of the population remained helpless against vested interests.
Who stood up for the freedom of the many, not the privilege of the few.
A spirit this government will draw on as we deliver our programme for political reform: a power revolution.
A fundamental resettlement of the relationship between state and citizen that puts you in charge.
‘Much in this new Government statement accords with the BHA’s policies we set out in our own manifestos ahead of the election and with the principles of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. We particularly welcome moves to increase freedom of speech, and a reformed House of Lords which, by being fully elected, would necessarily remove the right of Bishops to sit in our second chamber.’
‘We also look forward to making our case for the repeal and revision of unjust, restrictive and discriminatory laws, such as those which require compulsory worship on our school children – a clear violation of their freedom of conscience – and those which unfairly restrict the right to free speech and protest.’
I think Copson is generally right but there are serious problems here. Clegg’s ideas are laudable, but there are as yet no indications as to how he thinks he’ll implement them – moving children of asylum seekers from one detention centre to another (particularly one with a notorious reputation) is not a remotely adequate solution. Much of the push towards ID cards came from within the civil service itself, and there is still an entrenched authoritarian culture in government agencies which needs urgent tackling; just yesterday the new government took the same stand on control orders as its predecessor.
I don’t just expect a repeal of New Labour’s surveillance state laws, I expect a change in culture to uphold the rule of law and to abide by evidence-based policy making. That means not just accepting the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling on the National DNA Database, but abiding by rulings against denying prisoners the vote and on the legality of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act. I’m worried that now in government Clegg is going to pick and choose what works for him and what doesn’t and not challenge the vested interests, defeat of whom really would make the “most significant programme of empowerment by a British government since the great enfranchisement of the 19th Century” much more than overexcited hyperbole.
“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.