The UK must ensure LGBTQ+ Afghan refugees are prioritised for resettlement

Read Kate Osborne MPs latest article for The House magazine: 

Under the Taliban, simply being LGBTQI+ will mean extra-judicial executions and the death penalty. The UK must ensure the inclusion and safety of LGBTQI+ Afghans throughout their resettlement process.

There is a long history of LGBTQI+ people in Afghanistan being disproportionately targeted and subject to homophobic, biphobic and transphobic sexual violence, forced marriages, honour killings, conversion practices and execution.

Under the previous Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the death penalty was imposed for consensual same-sex conduct under the Afghan Penal Code 2017. Even before the Taliban took control last month, there were no known LGBTQI+ advocacy organisations or networks.

And now the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has sent many LGBTQI+ people into hiding out of fear. Under the rule of the Taliban, simply being LGBTQI+ will mean extra-judicial executions and the death penalty sanctioned by the government.

The Taliban’s stance on the death penalty for same sex relationships is clear. In an interview with German newspaper Bild, in July 2021, a Taliban judge, Gul Rahim, stated “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 3 metres high.”

Even those LGBTQI+ Afghans who have escaped to neighbouring countries such as Iran, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are still at huge risk. Many will not be safe to come forward within these countries and identify themselves because their families and communities can be the source of their persecution and officials in host countries may also be a danger.

The UK government must call upon and hold accountable those in Afghanistan’s neighbouring states to ensure their borders are open, to not ill-treat those in need of protection and ensure emergency humanitarian support to those in need at all stages of their migration.

The UK is rightly one of many countries offering resettlement to Afghan refugees. However, I would also like to see the UK taking a leading role in ensuring that in every resettlement programme, LGBTQI+ people are prioritised, and their needs met.

To do this, I would like to see the UK government immediately bring together partnering governments, refugee organisations and LGBTQI+ civil society organisations, to ensure the inclusion and safety of LGBTQI+ Afghans throughout their resettlement process.

In 2017, the UK Home Office came under criticism for its guidance that stated, “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 guidance was used to refuse asylum claims from LGBTQI+ Afghans and justify their removal to Afghanistan.

The UK government must immediately provide assurance that no LGBTQI+ Afghan refugees are currently being assessed to be removed from the UK back to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. This means that the UK Government must immediately clarify that LGBTQI+ Afghan asylum seekers are not subject to Home Office guidance from 2017 that they would be safe to be removed to Afghanistan if they “don’t cause public outrage”.

The UK government’s Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) for refugees from Syria was highly praised for its focus on the most vulnerable people. When the scheme was launched, the government committed to accepting LGBTQI+ refugees, but there was no data made available by the government or the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to confirm if LGBTQI+ refugees were resettled to the UK.

I want the UK government to ensure that LGBTQI+ people are included in the UNHCR prioritisation profile, for the resettlement of refugees from Afghanistan and with a defined, accountable process for this community to access protection and resettlement that meets their needs.

I welcome the prioritisation of vulnerable people under the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) and the inclusion of LGBTQI+ people once again. However, the UK government must ensure that family reunification applications are responsive to all family configurations, including those of LGBTQI+ families. For example, recognising that Afghans with same-sex partners will not have had access to legal recognition for their relationships.

Ultimately, the UK government has a duty to ensure that resettlement plans and policies are as intersectional as people are diverse. I urge the UK government to increase support and prioritise the LGBTQI+ community in its immediate, medium-term, and long-term efforts in the evacuation and resettlement efforts.