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UNA-UK urges the Prime Minister to protect LGBTQ+ and women refugees

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People wave a pride flag with the UN Refugees emblem

UNA-UK has joined 245 fellow human rights organisations urging the Prime Minister to abide by international law and protect LGBTQ+ and women refugees. 

In an open letter - led by LGBTQ+ rights charity Stonewall - organisations including Amnesty, Oxfam, and Refugee Council called on PM Rishi Sunak to reaffirm the UK’s commitment to protect LGBTQ+ people and women around the world. This follows Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s dangerous and inflammatory claim - roundly criticised by the UN Refugee Agency - that LGBTQ+ and women refugees are misusing their identities to make “false” asylum claims. 

UNA-UK wholly rejects the Home Secretary’s claim, and the UK Government’s escalating hostile environment seeking to criminalise refugees. We join the call for the Prime Minister to reaffirm the UK’s commitment to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol - and make it clear that the UK will abide by international law and respect the inalienable rights of refugees and asylum seekers. 

Read the open letter below and see the full list of signatories here.

Tuesday 3rd October 2023

Dear Prime Minister,

We write in the interest of your office clarifying the position of the UK Government with respect to the protection from persecution afforded under the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. The Home Secretary implied that many LGBTQ+ and women refugees in the UK and across the world should not be entitled to protection as refugees because in her view, now roundly criticised by the United Nations, the 1951 UN Refugee Convention definition is not being properly interpreted. She also suggested that they are misusing their identities to make false claims for international protection.

It is now well-established and long-settled that persecution of LGBTQ+ people and women falls within the Convention’s protection. Every day, the signatories to this letter work with women and LGBTQ+ refugees and bear witness to their scars from being persecuted. By any standard, many signatories of this letter work daily with people who did not want to leave their homes, their families, their communities, their cultures – they had to flee to save their lives.

The undeniable and stark reality is that many LGBTQ+ people and women face persecution across the world. Countless LGBTQ+ people are often forced to flee their own countries due to a litany of human rights abuses including torture, ill-treatment, and denial of the most basic of rights to survive. Likewise, many women who apply for asylum have survived extreme harm, including gender-based and sexual violence, torture, ill-treatment, trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Moreover, LGBTQ+ and women refugees often face exclusion and violence in countries to which they have fled or on journeys in search of safety. To be granted asylum, they often have to disclose serious assaults to which they have been subjected, sometimes repeatedly and at risk of retraumatisation. LGBTQ+ people also face the enormous challenge of having to ‘prove’ their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Far from being unusually or improperly privileged by refugee law or practice, LGBTQ+ and women refugees face significant barriers to their right to seek and enjoy asylum even long after escape from the country in which they face persecution.

We note that your Government’s own statistics suggest that only 2% of all asylum claims made in the UK in 2022 included sexual orientation as a reason for seeking protection. We regret that the Home Secretary intentionally singled out this small minority of people for reasons that have nothing to do with genuine concern or respect for international law, refugees or their protection.

In the past, the UK Government had strong words of support for both LGBTQ+ people and women in the face of the manifest risks to their safety and human rights arising from the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. Along with these words, it helped LGBTQ+ people and women fleeing persecution from the Taliban at the time of the evacuation. This is the leadership we need, not a race to the bottom and turning our back on LGBTQ+ people and women in some of the world’s most hostile contexts.

We as a coalition of human rights organisations working with refugees and people seeking asylum, women and girls, and LGBTQ+ people, ask that you as Prime Minister stand with the leaders of the vast majority of the UN Member States and reaffirm the UK’s commitment to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol as well as its commitments to the protection of the rights of LGBTQ+ people and women around the world.

Above all, we need compassion and support from our political leaders and a clear affirmation that they will abide by international law and respect the lives of all who face persecution and are entitled to asylum.

Photo: People wave a pride flag with the UN Refugee Agency emblem. Credit: © UNHCR/Jaime Giménez via UNHCR Facebook

Read more:

  • Read the statement from Stonewall
  • Read UNA-UK response to the the Illegal Migration bill 
  • See the UN Refugees Agency’s response to UK Asylum and Policy since 2021
  • Read UNA-UK's statement on the Nationality and Borders Bill