Thursday, 17 July 2014

Aderonke Apata from the Lesbian Immigration Support Group, Manchester, speaking at Women Resisting the Racist ‘Security’ State Meeting

3rd July, 2014 

Aderonke Apata speaking at the meeting

I am honoured to be here to speak to you about what LBGT people face, people who are asylum seekers in the UK, people who have been persecuted back in their countries of origin and thinking they are coming to the UK for sanctuary. Instead, when they get to the UK they are criminalised again, having to go through the same problems that we went through whilst we were back at home. Platforms like this are an opportunity for us to raise awareness amongst people so that they know what’s happening. 

Therefore I would like to speak about the work of the Lesbian Immigration Support centre in supporting lesbian women, bisexual, transgender people. We give social support to people when they go to court. When we go to interviews, LBGT asylum seekers are asked very intimate questions, questions which you don’t want to share with people, things you don’t want anyone to know about. They [immigration authorities] keep asking people to answer such questions. But even when you answer such questions they are still not satisfied. This has led to desperate situations where people have had to prove their sexuality to immigration officers by recording scenes making love with their lovers in the bedroom and sending them to immigration officers to say that this is my proof to say that I am a gay person. I think that this is wrong. Even with heterosexual people you don’t need to prove that, so I don’t think we should be subjected to that kind of inferior treatment because it is degrading for us to go through. Even when we do all that, there is always something wrong, they will always pick up something out of your evidence to use against you. Such a catalogue of wrong doings the Home Office is doing against LBGT people. This is a time for people to speak out, this is a time for people to resist this racism and homophobia, there are a number of campaigns against this treatment all around the country, you even have different individuals campaigning against this.

In a Channel 4 report way back in March, Theresa May announced that she would be reviewing the immigration system when it comes to the interviewing of LBGT asylum seekers. I am glad this is happening. They have been going around the country to meet with LBGT asylum seekers, collecting evidence of people's personal experiences to see how they can change their policies. They had these guidelines before but they did not follow them. 

What we are saying to them is this. We want staff to be properly trained with diversity issues. We want them to apply sensitivity when it comes to dealing with cases of LBGT people, because this is quite intimate, it’s not what you want to talk to people about. In the UK people are lucky and I am lucky here as I can express myself the way I want. Back in my country and in other countries from where people have come to seek asylum here, it is not an easy thing, you can’t even mention it to a friend of yours, so whatever you are going through you have to bottle it up. But they don’t know all this, they don’t take them into consideration when they are carrying out these interviews and making these decisions against us. It makes it very, very difficult. Even if they do know, because they need to keep down the immigration numbers, they just don’t want to look at it. So with campaigning, with everybody talking about it they are coming in the direction in which we think they should be coming. I hope that by September when this report is out it will influence policy in such a way that they will change the way they interview asylum seekers when it comes to sexuality claims.

However, it’s not just about the interviewing and decision making, for the people who have been persecuted back home, or even myself, after having been arrested and tortured back in my country I was kept in a detention here for over a year. And,  it’s not just me, we have so many people who have been through that detention centre. There is a scene of going back, so I am going through the same again. I am being locked up again for being who I am. For nothing more, and it's the same for anyone else who has come from Uganda, Nigeria or any other country because they are LBGT people. We have mental and psychological effects that people face every day as a result of people being locked up, they have lost their relationships, they have lost their families, lost everything they have got and people are still kept in detention. At the end of the day some of them will be released into the community, because not everyone in the detention centre will be deported. So why do they have to take us through that torture in the first instance, can they not deal with our cases while we are out there in the community, why do they have to lock us up? I see that as injustice, I see it as the state wanting to suppress people from fighting against them or fighting for their own rights and the rights of other people. 

There has been so much talk about detention centres. On the 21 June I think it was, we had a big demonstration in Manchester to shut down Yarl’s Wood detention centre, and that was not the only demonstration that has been going on, even inside Yarl’s Wood there has been a demonstration to shut down Yarl’s Wood which I was part of in 2012. There are so many detention centres around the country and people are pressing for them to get shut down. I believe and I know that detention is not the solution. Some people are pressing for change of management of detention centres in the wake of this scandal that has come up with SERCO staff sexually abusing detainees, exploiting people’s vulnerability and I think it is horrendous that all this is happening in the UK. People are pressing for change of management, but I don’t think a change of management will do anything because there is a culture and that will still come back whoever gets the contract even if it’s not SERCO, it will still come back. So what we are talking about is a total shut down of all detention centres. They can do what they want to do while we are out in the community, they don’t have to lock us up.

The surveillance for us is massive, they will ask us to come to reporting centres, we go there to sign, what do they do, they detain us. If you don’t go to sign and you are caught up somewhere you will still be detained. So you don’t know which way to go, you don’t know whether you should abide by the rules or not, you don’t know what you are doing is right, all this makes us think we are in the wrong, but we are not. While thinking about this means people are having depression, mental and psychological problems, even physically people have been abused in detention centres. We have seen male guards abusing females in detention centres and we don’t think that is right at all. So that is why you see a campaign, I ask you please join in, although it may not concern you directly, there might be a friend of yours or a neighbour of yours that might have someone in a detention centre. 

It is said that detention centres should be used as a last resort for deporting people, but how do you justify keeping people in detention centre for one, two, three years, how do you justify that? I can’t see the rationale. It is not the last resort. Therefore detention centres are not fit for purpose, we don’t want them at all. Each time we have a voice to raise we talk about what is a happening to LBGT and other asylum seekers. There are people who are here for political reasons, others who are here because of FGM and so many other reasons why they left their countries, they are treated in the same manner. I was just talking to somebody about a BBC report last night, where every fifteen minutes they were running this news about FGM and it makes me laugh. There was a family with a high profile campaign who was deported back to Nigeria about two or three months ago. This lady, she had two female children and she was saying that if she was deported, her children would have to undergo FGM, she had an online signature campaign of maybe about 200,000, she was supposed to be taken on a Virgin airline plane, even the director of Virgin spoke against it and refused to fly her, he spoke out against the FGM. The government is talking today that people should report FGM, any professional in this country who does not report back to the government would have to go jail, which means the government knows there is FGM going on outside this country and even within this country, so why are people being deported? That’s why I said I was so amazed when I heard it last night. I couldn’t digest it.

It’s the same thing with everyone else seeking asylum. This government is always commenting on how these other governments are abusing Human Rights in Syria etc. But what is happening here in this country? I feel this is the reason we need to stand up against the state, to let them know that what they are doing is injustice and we don’t want it to happen. If we don’t stand up they will continue to do what they are doing as if it’s alright. The Summit [global summit to end sexual violence in conflict 10-13 June] that happened last month, I attended it, I was just looking at William Hague when he was talking about rape and condemning these countries that rape women during conflict. Yes, they should be condemned because it is violence against women. But what about Yarl’s Wood that has over 400 women locked up for two or three years, they are subject to violence, and that is happening here in the backyard, and nobody is talking about it. People have been pressing for a public enquiry into that place. They are going to have an enquiry but it is not public. Two years ago when it went public they pretended as if they knew nothing. Now, because so many people are shouting about it, they are talking about it in the media, they cannot ignore it. That’s why they are calling for an inquiry. 

We need, as individuals and organisations, to come together and begin to push for a change, push for freedom, push for justice. It might take a long time, but I believe we can achieve it. If we know that this is what we want and we want to go for it, we will get there, because the freedom that I am enjoying today some other people fought for it so many years back, probably when I was not even born. So if we are doing what we are doing today and if we are not seeing the result with time even if you cannot see it another generation may enjoy it. That is my message for you all. Thank you.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Calls to action following Women Resisting the Racist Security State Open Meeting

Thank you all who came to the FWFP open meeting on July 3rd 2014. Special thanks to our speakers who all provided unique perspectives on the struggles for a more meaningful justice.

We will shortly post a more detailed account of the meeting and contributions from the speakers. In the meantime do have a look at the following websites which relate to Aderonke and Sarah's talks:

Kamila and her family were really moved by the support of the people at the meeting and were really encouraged by the messages of support and solidarity. We are working with the sisters to build a campaign of support and will update you in the next two weeks with the next steps. In the meantime:
  1. FWFP is looking to organise buses to Gloucester on the 29th September from London and from Birmingham. If you would like to contribute to the costs of this and/or travel on the bus please get in touch with us directly at We are an unfunded group so would need a critical mass and contribution to afford the bus hire – once we have campaign materials, we will email these out and ask you to circulate widely so that the sisters have some solidarity on the day.
  2. For people who want to be in touch with the MP in Gloucester, his details are here: . We will be drafting a template letter for people to send to Mr Graham and will send this out with the campaign materials in the next couple of weeks.
  3. For people who want to be in touch with the Sheikh sisters to arrange your own solidarity actions directly, please email with your phone number and some details of who you are and why you are wanting to get in touch (the family is understandably cautious of who they provide their details to so please provide as much detail as you can and we can forward directly to the family to respond).