Activism

'Nowhere near good enough': Government slammed over lack of support for LGBTQ+ Afghans

MPs used a Westminster debate to urge ministers to set up a humanitarian evacuation programme that prioritises LGBTQ+ Afghans facing persecution.

placards reading "refugees welcome"

Refugees stuck in hotels are struggling with indeterminate waits for housing. Image: Ilias Bartolini / Flickr

MPs have hit out at the government’s lack of support for LGBTQ+ people facing violence in Afghanistan as well as the Borders Bill which could put them at further risk even if they reached British shores.

In a Westminster Hall debate, Labour MP Kate Osborne said the government’s responses to cases of LGBTQ+ people facing persecution in Afghanistan “often fell well short of being anywhere near good enough” – if there was one at all.

With the Taliban in power, LGBTQ+ people are at risk of execution. Many reportedly went into hiding or assumed new identities as soon as the insurgents captured Kabul.

The debate was an opportunity to show leadership on evacuating and resettling LGBTQ+ Afghans, Stonewall told The Big Issue, with thousands left behind in the country still fearing for their safety.

“We know that LGBTQ+ Afghans already endured routine discrimination, abuse and persecution, including by the state,” Robbie de Santos, the charity’s director of communications and external affairs, told The Big Issue. 

The experts expect conditions for LGBTQ+ people to “deteriorate further”, he added, including a potential return to “active enforcement of the laws that prohibit same sex relationships”.

Same-sex relationships were criminalised under preexisting Afghan law and could be punishable by death, though official figures suggest there were no known executions for this reason after Western forces pushed the Taliban regime out of power in 2001.

But gay, bisexual and trans people still faced violence and harassment, including sexual assault, forced marriages and cruel conversion practices. 

Now there are fears the Taliban will reintroduce public executions for LGBTQ+ people. Speaking to German newspaper Bild in July, Gul Rahim – a Taliban judge – said: “For homosexuals, there can only be two punishments.

“Either stoning, or he must stand behind a wall that will fall down on him. 

“The wall must be 2.5 to three meters high.”

During the debate, MPs criticised the government’s upcoming Nationality and Borders Bill, which includes provisions for processing asylum seekers in offshore detainment centres and lengthy jail sentences for those who arrive in the UK by dinghy or without a valid visa.

“Many people who have been welcomed into this country’s LGBTQ+ community would not be here if they arrived under this potential law,” said Angela Eagle, Labour MP for Wallasey.

“The inherent contradiction is that those arriving by their own means are penalised for making their own way here.”

She asked Afghan resettlement minister Victoria Atkins to confirm people LGBTQ+ people travelling to the UK via third countries would not be subjected to the treatment set out in the bill, but theminister did not addressher comments.

Other MPs warned the environment of an offshore detainment centre would make it too dangerous for Afghan LGBTQ+ people to be honest about their sexual orientation or gender identity, despite needing to prove it to be allowed to remain in the UK. 

The government must recognise its responsibility to put in place a humanitarian evacuation programme that prioritises LGBTQ+ Afghans, de Santos said, as well as helping those already seeking asylum in the UK to build safe, secure lives here.

Osborne called on ministers to hold countries such as Pakistan accountable for how they treat people seeking safety from the Taliban.

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As recently as 2017, Home Office officials wrote guidance stating: “a practising gay man, who, on return to Kabul, would not attract or seek to cause public outrage, would not face a real risk of persecution”. This was used to reject people seeking safety and deport them back to Afghanistan.

Asked for an explanation for a gay man reportedly being deported to Afghanistan on this basis just two weeks before Kabul fell, Atkins said she was unaware of the incident and that the question should go to the immigration minister.

The government includes LGBTQ+ people among those prioritised under its resettlement scheme, but does not promise the same safety to their families.

Atkins said the government is working with other countries to “set out expectations for safe passage and respect for human rights” for all who wish to leave Afghanistan. 

She also asked MPs to encourage local authorities to offer permanent accommodation to Afghan refugees already in the UK, but could not say how many LGBTQ+ people were rescued during the evacuation of Kabul last month.

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