Submission of Written Evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee – Crispin Blunt MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT+ Rights (AFG0017)
- The takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban represents a severe crisis for LGBT+ People
- The Government’s response to this crisis was inert and haphazard
- The Government’s primary failure was to name LGBT+ people as a cohort in need of evacuation alongside women and girls and religious minorities
- The Foreign Secretary promised Crispin Blunt MP (conference call 17/08/2021) a point contact in the crisis centre and directed Minister James Cleverly to action this but it never materialised
- Repeated attempts by the APPG to connect the FCDO with international NGOs such as Rainbow Railroad who had records of vetted LGBT+ people in need of evacuation were rebuffed or ignored
- When asked for clarification on essential matters of process, key to successful collaboration with NGOs, the government failed to respond
- After the intervention of the Government’s Special Envoy on LGBT+ Rights, Lord Herbert of South Downs, the Government reached out to the APPG and started working with LGBT+ NGOs including Stonewall and Rainbow Railroad, however, by the time they reached out to them Operation Pitting was in all practicality over
- Since then, the Home Office, Victoria Atkins (Westminster Hall Debate, 21/09/2021) and Wendy Morton (Women and Equalities Questions 22/09/2021) have been clear that the Government is seeking to help evacuate and offer asylum to LGBT+ Afghans but what practically that means remains unclear.
Introduction to the APPG on Global LGBT+ Rights
The UK Parliament’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT+ Rights exists to ensure that global LGBT+ issues are permanently part of the Government’s agenda and the wider national conversation about human rights and equality, raised by well-briefed and motivated Parliamentarians both nationally and internationally.
We provide a forum for parliamentarians and organisations across the public, private and third sectors to work together to champion LGBT+ rights and push back against abuse and discrimination.
We principally focus on international LGBT+ rights but we do also include domestic issues within our remit.
The group was founded in June 2015 by a cross-party group of Members of Parliament and Members of the House of Lords.
- Afghanistan has always been an ultra-conservative country, politically, religiously and socially, even within what were Government-controlled areas. For an extensive summary of the legal restrictions on LGBT+ people in Afghanistan before the Taliban’s takeover, see the ILGA Asia report section on Afghanistan: https://ilga.org/downloads/ILGA_World_State_Sponsored_Homophobia_report_global_legislation_overview_update_December_2020.pdf Legally the death penalty was already possible for LGBT+ consensual same-sex conduct under the Afghan Penal Code 2017. However, it seems to have been unenforced. By contrast, the extraordinarily brutal treatment meted out to LGBT+ people in areas already under Taliban control and their particularly strict interpretation of Sharia law is well documented and can only be expected to now come into force across the whole country. Under Sharia law homosexual acts are considered a major sin. As such, under the Taliban, consensual same-sex sexual relations will be punishable with flogging as well as the death penalty. The experience of areas that were already under Taliban control is indicative of the increased potential of enforcement: for example, in 2015 the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported that a “local” Sharia court in Ghor province had sentenced two men and a juvenile to execution by wall-toppling for homosexual acts. According to UNAMA, the falling wall killed the two men but only injured the teenager who was ultimately allowed to live.
- Some idea of the desperation that LGBT+ Afghans are experiencing right now is given by John Nicholson MP’s reporting of the experience of a gay teacher in Kabul with whom he is in contact to the Westminster Hall Debate on LGBTQ+ Afghan Refugees on Tuesday 21st September: “The Taliban are everywhere, all holding guns. I have spent all my savings. I am trying to keep a little in reserve for bribes—I have sold my laptop. I received a call from one of my foreign friends who told me that a bus for LGBT+ people was leaving for the airport. When we reached the main gate…we waited for seven hours. The heat was appalling, and we only had sips of water to drink…When I got home from the airport, I felt humiliated and devastated. I had lost all the future plans I had worked so hard for. But I did receive a message from my beloved boyfriend. He said he was trying to get into the airport with his family, as they had a special emigration visa. I have never felt lonelier in my entire life. He means the world to me. We have always considered our bond inseparable…The evacuation of Afghan people has come to an end. Afghan LGBT+ people have been abandoned by every foreign country. The Taliban has taken control of Hamid Karzai International Airport. Kabul seems empty. There are no women and girls on the streets going to work, school or university…My boyfriend has been in contact. He is now safe in a refugee camp in Qatar. But we cannot communicate easily. I have no idea where he is going and when. I may never see him again…All I want now is to escape to a country where I can be safe and free with my boyfriend, continue my studies and be the best version of myself…I woke to hear of a gay man raped and beaten by the Taliban. The stress is eating me up.”
- Early announcements by the government failed to recognise LGBT+ people as a named cohort among the vulnerable groups in need of evacuation https://www.gov.uk/government/news/bespoke-resettlement-route-for-afghan-refugees-announced The announcement named only “Women and Girls, and religious and other minorities”. SOGI minorities could have been understood as coming under the generic rubric of “other minorities” but the vagueness of that term was hardly an indication of governmental enthusiasm for action and left NGOs, MPs, civil servants and international partners seriously in doubt as to whether LGBT+ people were considered by the UK Government to be in significant enough danger to warrant evacuation as part of Operation Pitting.
- Any vagueness in public pronouncements was contradicted by promises made in private to the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group, Crispin Blunt MP. In a conference call with Members of Parliament, the Foreign Secretary promised Crispin Blunt a dedicated point of contact within the FCDO’s crisis centre and asked James Cleverly to implement this. No point of contact was established until on the 24th August James Cleverley suggested that the Gender Unit was handling things.
- On the 18th August, Crispin Blunt wrote on behalf of the APPG to the Prime Minister, copying in the Foreign Secretary and Wendy Morton, reiterating the desire of international NGOs to work with the Government to evacuate at risk LGBT+ individuals with whom they were in direct contact. This letter was never responded to.
- Meeting with representatives of NGOs like Rainbow Railroad and UNHCR it was clear that the lack of clarity and specificity in the Government’s pronouncements about LGBT+ asylum had left them confused and unsure about what, if anything, the UK was prepared to do to help LGBT+ people. They asked if the APPG could get essential information from ministers about the process, specifically regarding the following:
- What would be the status of any successfully evacuated person on arrival in the UK - would they have refugee status, or would they have already been granted asylum?
- Were Rainbow Railroad able to share the details of at-risk LGBT+ individuals known to them in Afghanistan with FCDO officials or ideally people on the ground in Kabul, what processes would be available to them to share these highly sensitive details securely?
- What kind of vetting process would asylum seekers expect to encounter on the ground? Would an assessment of their status as LGBT+ people be made then and there or on arrival in the United Kingdom? If so what would that assessment have looked like?
- Was any provision being made for family members of minority asylum seekers?
- What ultimately was the timeline for this process - how long would he UK be processing these claims?
- Were there any quotas on numbers - was there a maximum number of LGBT+ cases the government was willing to consider?
- The APPG emailed the FCDO with these requests and received no answer. 19/08/2021
- Crispin Blunt asked that LGBT+ people become a named cohort alongside Women and Girls and religious minorities and was promised that would be the case 24/08/2021. He believes this was given in a call with a Special Adviser from the Home Office, Michael Stott, who was offering advice about what he could say in advance of media interviews that afternoon. He communicated this understanding to officers on the APPG WhatsApp group.
- Crispin reached out to through the co-ordinator of the APPG to Joy Morrisey, the Foreign Secretary’s PPS and repeated his requests that the FCDO work with LGBT+ charities to enable the evacuation, and again these requests met with no response (see WhatsApp messages below) 25/08/2021
- Finally after the intervention of Nick Herbert, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on LGBT+ Rights, civil servants reached out to the APPG, suggesting that they were now working with Stonewall international and with Rainbow Railroad through the team at Stonewall. They also promised to finally provide us with answers to our earlier request for more detailed information regarding the evacuation process and we were assured it was being considered at the highest ministerial level and they would get back to us soon with more information. That information was, however, not forthcoming. More disappointingly, by the time the FCDO entered into dialogue with NGOs, Operation Pitting was effectively beginning to wind down and NGOs were told that in reality all UK flights were now at capacity and there was a very small chance any LGBT+ individuals would be able to be evacuated. See below emails from 26/08/2021