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For several years now, the Tories have been coming up with increasingly cruel plans to stop refugee boats arriving on Britain’s shores. We had Priti Patel’s Nationality and Borders Act. Then came the Rwanda scheme, which the government is determined to push despite legal challenges. Neither of those ideas has reduced the number of Channel crossings, instead only causing untold anxiety and suffering. The Illegal Migration Bill, which is returning to Parliament on Wednesday, is the most outrageous one yet: a wholesale attack on the right to seek asylum in the UK.

The Bill would ban from claiming asylum anyone arriving in the UK through “irregular means”. People crossing the Channel would be detained for the first 28 days without bail. The Home Secretary would then have a duty to remove them – either to their country of origin or, if it’s deemed too dangerous, to a third country such as Rwanda. The same rules would apply to everyone: regardless if they’re fleeing a war zone, trying to join their only living relatives or if they’re a victim of modern slavery. In an effort to appear “tough”, the Tories are throwing some of the world’s most vulnerable people under the bus, and almost certainly breaching international human rights law in the process.

In reality, the biggest groups of Channel migrants come from highly unsafe countries, such as Syria, Afghanistan or Sudan, to which they cannot be removed. Rwanda has only agreed to accept 200 people from the UK, if the plan materialises at all. Therefore, if implemented, this Bill would result in tens of thousands of people stuck in limbo for years, languishing in detention centres, in hotels, barges or other temporary accommodation, with no right to work and no way to get on with their lives.

The Tories claim that their aim is to discourage people from taking dangerous, clandestine journeys. What they conveniently forget to mention is that, for the vast majority of refugees, there are no official ways to get to the UK. Safe routes are few and far between: there is the Homes for Ukraine scheme, and a visa programme for holders of British National (Overseas) passports in Hong Kong. On paper, the UK also has a scheme for people fleeing Afghanistan, but the number of refugees actually brought here is vanishingly small. As of February 2023, only 22 people had been resettled under the government’s Pathway 2, designed for vulnerable refugees. Meanwhile, 8,633 Afghans arrived last year in small boats.

For everyone else, including LGBTQ+ people escaping persecution, the choices are grim. There are no safe routes for queer people fearing for their lives in Iran. There is no resettlement scheme for members of the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda, who under the proposed anti-gay law could face life in prison or the death penalty. The UK offers no humanitarian visas to gay people in Nigeria, Pakistan, Kenya or dozens of other countries where same-sex relationships are criminalised. That’s the root of the problem: no one would risk their life in a small boat if they could safely and legally board a big one.

The safety and dignity of refugees is an LGBTQ+ rights issue. Thousands of people who fled unimaginable horrors in their countries of origin are being retraumatised by the UK’s immigration and asylum system. LGBTQ+ asylum seekers are routinely disbelieved and mistreated by the Home Office. Research by Stonewall and Rainbow Migration found that LGBTQ+ people in detention centres often face harassment and abuse. Previous opposite-sex relationships or being single are still being used by the Home Office as “evidence” of asylum seekers lying about their identity. In 2016, a bisexual man from Pakistan had his claim challenged, because when asked to explain the acronym LGBT, he used the word trans rather than transgender. That’s the level of ignorance that queer refugees come up against.

The Rwanda scheme has also raised concerns about the welfare of LGBTQ asylum seekers. There are no laws in Rwanda protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexuality or gender identity, trans people are not legally recognised and anti-LGBTQ abuse is widespread. No one should be forcibly sent many miles away to a country they have no connection to, let alone one that’s unsafe for them.

Whether it’s refugees or trans people, marginalised groups are constantly being used by this government as pawns in a culture war. When energy bills have soared to record levels, two million people rely on food banks and endless NHS waits are costing lives, the Tories would prefer us to be angry at vulnerable minorities instead.

We cannot fall for these divide and rule tactics. We need to oppose the Illegal Immigration Bill, demand safe routes for refugees and dignity for all asylum seekers – including secure accomodation and the right to work. We must put an end to the hostile environment and reject the dehumanising rhetoric used by the government and sections of the media. People fleeing war and persecution are not a crisis, a threat or an invasion. They’re human beings who deserve protection, freedom and respect. In the face of these callous attacks, the LGBTQ+ community must stand with them.