Another day, another headline about a failed asylum bid. This time, it’s Angeline Pirara Mwafulirwa and her three children who are currently in a family detention centre in Scotland and will be forcibly removed from the UK this weekend.
Angeline Pirara Mwafulirwa and her children were forcibly removed from their home in Glasgow
Angeline is claiming asylum on the grounds of her sexuality, like many other lesbian and bisexual women who flee their homes in hope of refuge in the UK from a myriad of discrimination and danger they may encounter at home. And yet our government send them home, time and time again, with the message: Be Discreet.
Be discreet? Seriously? I don’t know about you, but my sexuality is much more than just the sex of the person I am attracted to. It influences everything I do. My politics, the television I watch, the newspapers I read, even the shoes on my feet. Discretion does not mean do not hold your girlfriend’s hand in public, it means do not be yourself.
I remember those few years between realising I was gay and telling my family and friends as incredibly isolating and lonely. I was slamming doors and crying myself to sleep, and no one knew why. I was in love with my best friend and I was confused. I couldn’t quite admit it to myself, let alone anyone else. I can’t even comprehend a situation where I wouldn’t be allowed to tell anyone else, for fear of imprisonment, violence or even death. An all too familiar situation for lesbian and bisexual women like Angeline who have been refused asylum in this country and others like it.
Lord Hope said in a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that: “to compel a homosexual person to pretend that his sexuality does not exist or suppress his behavior by which to manifest himself is to deny his fundamental right to be who he is” and still, we don’t talk about protecting the rights of asylum seekers. We don’t talk about immigration at all, as if it’s a dirty word, infecting our mouths with some kind of liberal disease. The mainstream political parties cower to the will of public opinion, refusing to speak positively about immigration issues incase it loses them votes. Incase it alienates their core support. Well you know what? If your core support refuse a safe haven for a woman and her children who are danger because she is attracted to other women, then that’s a core support I don’t want.
Oh yes, that’s right. They come over here, they steal our women, our jobs and our flat screen televisions. I forgot. Instead of talking about the danger that these ‘criminals’ pose to us, why don’t we talk about the danger that these people are fleeing from? With the summer and Pride season almost upon us, whilst you’re dusting off your rainbow flags or planning your Civil Partnership, the sobering reality is this: homosexuality remains illegal in over 80 countries worldwide and is punishable by death in countries like Sudan, Mauritania and Saudi Arabia. Not to mention all the places where the law might have changed, but social attitudes haven’t. Discrimination goes well beyond prosecution. We’re talking humiliation, violence and inequality not only by state officials, but in communities. In families. So many people who have no one to stand up for them or laws to protect them. We don’t know how lucky we are.
The Home Secretary promised two years ago to stop the removal of people whose sexual orientation or gender identity put them at ‘proven’ risk of imprisonment, torture or execution. There have been several high profile cases that have highlighted the problems that people like Angeline face in Malawi, including imprisonment, police violence and exclusion from housing and health services. Angeline fears her children will be taken away by her ex-husband and says she’s scared they are in danger of female genital mutilation at the hands of his family. That’s clearly not enough proof for Teresa May and the Home Office.
Of course, there will be people like May who don’t believe Angeline’s story. A comment under one article said: “’LGBT” – she’s having a laugh – three kids and she’s now claiming LGBT (lol)’” and others who think that she and Waverley Care—an HIV charity that she volunteers for—are lying in a bid to defame Malawi.
For me, it’s not about whether or not Angeline is telling the truth. What is far more important, in my eyes, is our unwillingness to help. All she wants is a safe place to raise her children and the freedom to be who she is without fear of persecution. I feel so lucky to live in a place where my rights are protected, where I can have my relationship recognised by law, where I could serve in the army and adopt a child, if I wanted to. And I want those things for Angeline and her family, and all of those women who are in the same situation but aren’t fortunate enough to have their stories believed. Of the 19,804 applications made for asylum in 2011, more than half were refused. I don’t think even the most hardened cynic could believe they were all lying.
I’ve no doubt that Malawi and countries like it will soon realise that, as Hilary Clinton put it, gay rights are human rights, but until then, we have a responsibility to take care of people like Angeline and her family. It’s not long now until London plays host to World Pride 2012, an event that aims to draw attention to countries where being gay is still illegal and give those who can’t march safely at home an opportunity to do that on our streets. Let’s hope that sentiment lasts a little longer than the British Summer.