Home Office urged to open evacuation route for LGBTQ+ Afghans

"It is essential the government does what it can to help and protect LGBTQ+ Afghans like women and girls and religious minorities," MPs' group chair says
Photo: Micha Klootwijk / Alamy Stock Photo

Pressure is growing on the government to do more to protect LGBTQ+ people in Afghanistan at immediate risk of torture and death under the Taliban regime.

British parliamentarians have said the Home Office needs to immediately open up an evacuation route for highly vulnerable people that are already known to international NGOs like the UNHCR, Amnesty International and the Rainbow Railroad organisation.

There are also calls for LGBTQ+ people to be prioritised alongside women and girls in the new Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme announced last week, which is set to take 5,000 people in its first year.

“With the Taliban in control, an already appalling situation for LGBTQ+ people in Afghanistan can and will only get worse. It is essential the government does what it can to help and protect LGBTQ+ Afghans like women and girls and religious minorities,” said Crispin Blunt MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT+ Rights, which has a membership of more than 70 MPs and peers.

The Tory MP and former minister said the fact there is scant information available about queer communities in Afghanistan because of “sustained and virulent persecution” makes it difficult to establish who needs help, and how they can be contacted – but there are people already known to agencies.

Long term the government needs to work with NGOs to incorporate LGBTQ+ people into the resettlement scheme, he said, stressing the need to understand the culturally specific expressions of being queer in Afghanistan and people’s family circumstances.

“Few are more exposed to a more grisly end than LGBT+ Afghans trapped under the Taliban’s authority,” he said.

Since the Taliban came to power this month, there have been reports that it is actively seeking to persecute LGBTQ+ people.

The extremist organisation has a long and well-documented history of using barbaric methods to torture and kill people, including through stoning, hanging and chopping off body parts.

Just last month a Taliban judge told the German news outlet Bild that those caught engaging in gay sex will have a three-metre-high wall pushed onto them, a form of murder referred to as “wall-toppling”.

Even prior to the group’s takeover, life for LGBTQ+ people in Afghanistan was dangerous. Under Afghan laws, individuals could be arrested and taken to court on the basis of sexuality.

Speaking to the BBC, one Afghan who keeps his sexuality hidden said: "As a gay person… you cannot reveal yourself, even to your family or your friends.

"If I reveal myself to my family, maybe they will beat me, maybe they will kill me.

"Even if the Taliban accepts a woman in the government, in school, they will never accept gay or LGBT people. They will kill all of them on the spot."

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, said the need for secrecy about one’s sexuality and the inability to lead an openly gay life in Afghanistan means people are less likely to have stability.

This in turn makes it difficult for people to come forwards to access official resettlement schemes. He suggested it is likely that people will try and leave the country by foot to Pakistan or make their way to the UK via a different route rather than presenting themselves at an airport with correct documentation in the hope they can leave.

“Formal schemes for people to make a safe, managed journey and authorised in advance are great and really important," he said.

"We should have more of them but having those schemes doesn’t change [the fact] many of those who have to flee can’t access those systems. Other people’s lives are not stable enough to engage with those systems even if formally open to them."

There are currently 3,000 people already in the UK from Afghanistan awaiting decisions on their asylum claims, which means they are unable to work or claim benefits. Among that number are likely to be people who are LGBTQ+ and Valdez-Symonds said much more urgent thought needs to be given to those currently unable to move forwards with their lives.

He said currently the only guarantee people from Afghanistan have been given is that they will not be returned to the country, but it is not known how long that policy will be in place for.

He said LGBTQ+ people who are in Afghanistan right now are at risk of “brutality, obscene punishment, even execution” from the Taliban.

“It’s hard to think of another group who are likely to have as extreme set of problems in every single aspect you can imagine than LGBTI people,” he said.

The LGBT+ Conservatives organisation has also stepped up its lobbying of government about the urgent need to try and protect gay people living in Afghanistan and make sure those needing to leave are given help.

Its vice-chair Pierre Andrews said it has written to home secretary Priti Patel and foreign secretary Dominic Raab about getting people safe passage to the UK and asked “that they do not face unnecessarily hurdles proving their status”.

He added: “As they will be fleeing their home and coming from a country where they would already have been living in secrecy.”

The Home Office is understood to be developing further details on the eligibility criteria for the resettlement scheme and this is “being developed at pace”.

Currently, priority will be given to women and girls, and religious and other minorities, who are most at risk of human rights abuses and dehumanising treatment by the Taliban.

Kate Proctor is political editor and Noa Hoffman is a reporter at CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared.

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