Suella Braverman has just claimed that being gay, or a woman, is not a good enough reason to claim asylum here in the UK – and people are furious.
The home secretary’s comments came ahead of a speech she is expected to deliver in the US on Tuesday, where she will question if the United Nations Refugee Convention is “fit for our modern age”.
In a speech to a centre-right think tank American Enterprise Institute, in Washington DC, Braverman will question the 1951 cornerstone of refugee law, as she outlines her suggestions to deal with the refugee crisis.
She is set to say: “Let me be clear, there are vast swathes of the world where it is extremely difficult to be gay, or to be a woman. Where individuals are being persecuted, it is right that we offer sanctuary.
“But we will not be able to sustain an asylum system if in effect simply being gay, or a woman, and fearful of discrimination in your country of origin is sufficient to qualify for protection.”
Is being a woman, or being gay, enough reason to seek asylum?
If we look at the original 1951 convention, it actually does not list gender and sexuality specifically.
It defines a refugee as someone who:
“owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of [their] nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail [themself] of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of [their] former habitual residence, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”
But, under this convention, many LGBTQ+ people and women are able to seek refuge as “members of a particular social group” who are persecuted.
And sadly, women and members of the LGBTQ+ community are still marginalised in many societies today.
As the UNHCR explains, members of the LGBTQ+ community can face “discrimination, persecution and violence sometimes on a daily basis” – and in some countries, same-sex relationships are criminalised, or even punishable by death.
“Many LGBTIQ+ persons have no choice but to seek refuge elsewhere,” the UNHCR explained.
The independent organisation, Human Rights Watch, also found that at least 67 countries around the world have national laws criminalising same-sex relations between consenting adults – and nine countries have laws which criminalise gender expression.
And, by definition, refugees are people not protected by their own governments.
In many countries around the world, women are persecuted because of their gender, too.
According to a report, Women, Business and the Law 2023, published by the World Bank, only 14 countries have 100% full equal rights for women – and the UK isn’t even on that list.
In 2002, the UNHCR said, ”gender-related claims have typically encompassed, although are by no means limited to, acts of sexual violence, family/domestic violence, coerced family planning, female genital mutilation, punishment for transgressions of social mores” and same-sex relationships.
It added that not all women are automatically entitled to refugee status, but – like all refugees – she has to establish she has a “well-founded” fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular group or political opinion.
Context to Braverman’s refugee speech
The home secretary’s speech comes just weeks after the government confirmed that 872 people had crossed the English Channel in small boats in just one day – that’s a record for this year.
It also put the cumulative figure for 2023 at a provisional 20,973.
The government also revealed in June that there were 19% more asylum applicants in the UK this year compared to the previous year to June 2022.
The record comes off the back of the Conservatives’ repeated pledge to “stop the boats”, something which will be heavily scrutinised ahead of the 2024 general election.
The home secretary herself has said it is her “dream” to send asylum seekers to Rwanda under a controversial government scheme – so far, not a single migrant has been deported in this way.
Braverman has previously expressed her frustration with the European Convention on Human Rights and its interpretations after it impeded the Rwanda deportation scheme.
She has already campaigned to pull out of the European Court of Human Rights.
How have people responded?
Her trailed speech has not gone down well on Twitter...