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Asylum Detention Centres: Safety

Volume 777: debated on Tuesday 29 November 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the report by the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group and Stonewall published on 27 October No Safe Refuge, what plans they have to make detention centres safer for LGBT asylum seekers.

My Lords, the Government remain committed to continually improving the asylum process for all persons claiming asylum, including those who claim on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender and those in detention while their claim is considered.

I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer. Incarcerating lesbian and gay asylum seekers with people who threaten them with exactly the same violence and intimidation from which they are fleeing is a uniquely severe punishment. These people pose a very low flight risk. Why are we spending upwards of £36,000 a year keeping them locked up?

My Lords, I can reassure the noble Baroness that there is actually a presumption against detention. On that note, the Government commissioned Stephen Shaw to do a review into the detention of vulnerable individuals. The noble Baroness and I had a very brief chat before we came into the Chamber. A new category, “adult at risk”, has been introduced, with the clear presumption that people at risk should not be detained, and this includes transsexual and intersex people. Stephen Shaw will carry out a short review next year to see how the actions he suggested have been implemented.

My Lords, LGBT asylum seekers have already faced persecution in their countries of origin. This report shows that, having risked everything to get here, they are now facing it again. Does the Minister agree that, in order to tackle a problem, you have to quantify it first? Why has the Home Office refused to break down asylum seeker numbers by gender identity and sexual orientation?

My Lords, all genuine asylum seekers—LGBT or otherwise—have experienced persecution in the countries from which they have arrived, which is why they are in our country seeking asylum. I stress that detention is used only sparingly: to establish the identity of a person; if there is a reason to believe that a person will fail to comply with conditions; or to effect removal from the UK. But I stress that people genuinely seeking asylum have nothing to fear from seeking asylum in this country. Some of the training has been really improved with regard to the questions asked, particularly of the LGBTI community, because of the sensitivity around their claims.

In 2010, the coalition pledged to improve the system for LGBT applicants. I think that the then Home Secretary also ordered a review of the LGBT asylum system in 2014. In the light of the findings of this latest report, what has been the outcome of these two commitments in actually improving conditions of detention for LGBT asylum seekers, and what hard evidence is available to prove that those detention conditions have improved?

The noble Lord is absolutely right. An inspection was commissioned by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration back in 2014. It did not indicate any systemic or endemic issues of bullying, violence or victimisation. In fact, it praised the training and the guidance and our work with organisations such as UKLGIG and Stonewall. But the Government do not rest on their laurels. A new detention services order on LGBT was published in April, which provides operational guidance to suppliers and Home Office staff in the immigration detention estate. As I said, Stephen Shaw will be doing a review next year of how his suggested actions have been bedded in.