May 6, 2012

IconIf you’ve got it, don’t flaunt it: Another asylum seeker told to go home and be discreet

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 discrimation 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.




12 Responses to If you’ve got it, don’t flaunt it: Another asylum seeker told to go home and be discreet

  1. KJ says:

    This is a great article – putting lgbt issues into a global context. It’s easy to become complacent these days. Thanks for writing this :)

  2. Jayne Galloway says:

    Excellent and thought provoking article. A copy should be delivered to every MP in the country.

  3. katie k says:

    Great article. Can’t believe this still hasn’t been changed. A free country should be one that applies its laws and principles to everyone irrespective of their nationality.

  4. Jane Foster says:

    Well said Great article !!!

  5. Peter Nkosi says:

    ” … others who think that she and Waverley Care are lying in a bid to defame Malawi.”

    I am writing this from Malawi, and am the one who posted that comment to the Deadline article. I am not wanting to debate anything here, but rather just to clarify why I feel compelled to defend Malawi, in exactly as you would want to defend your country. By all means go ahead and make a case for Mwafulirwa to remain in UK based on her bisexuality. What is unfair is when activists start inventing other issues to try to make the case stronger.

    Mwafulirwa alleges that her daughters are at risk of FGM in Malawi, but does not tell us in which areas of the country it is practiced, or how extensive it is. Here in Tumbukaland, the home of the Mwafulirwa (general) family, we know completely nothing about this practice. On the other hand, from Human Rights Reports and UK newspaper articles I can see that FGM is practiced in UK, and appears not to be prosecuted .

    Mwafulirwa further alleges that the father and his family will take away her children. Snatching them like that is not allowed under the Constitution or Family Law; she can be granted custody of her children in courts such as you have there in UK. The Police have a Victim Support Unit, and there is a Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Welfare. Both of these bodies can advise her on how to present her case. Additionally, there are local, human rights organisations who would be tripping over themselves to assist her.

    I cannot run away from the fact that homosexual acts in Malawi are illegal. However, may I ask Ms Carrie to quantify the “several high profile cases” which she mentions in her article? Restricting ourselves to prosecutions, the total number of all cases, high or low profile, that I am aware of is ONE. Does that not strike you as odd in a country of 15 million; does it not suggest that there is at least some degree of tolerance towards homosexuality? And yes, I agree, that it is one prosecution too many.

    • Carrie Lyell Carrie Lyell says:

      Hi Peter

      Thank you for your comment. I’ve replied to some of the points you raised over on my blog.


      • Peter Nkosi says:

        Ms Carrie,

        Thanks for your reply, but you forgot to give the number of prosecutions of homosexuals in Malawi. You say “several”, I say one.

        Thank you

  6. Peter Nkosi says:

    I see that this Lesbilicious article is being referred to now by other websites. May I plead to be allowed another lengthy post? I have nothing to say about the main points covered by Ms Carrie, but rather to comment that journalists like to excite their readers by including unnecessary, sensational bits, and they do so without verifying their facts.

    Over on her blog, Ms Carrie in reply to some comments writes:

    “I have never been to Malawi, I don’t know what it is like to live as a gay person there …” & “I do not know the reasons for her deportation or the intricacies of her application.” & “The (homosexual) prosecution you mention is indeed the only one I know of.”

    How then can she write the following paragraph in this article? (The capitalised words are just for emphasis, not shouting.):

    “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.”

    I suggest that Ms Carrie saw that dirt elsewhere, or it has been fed to her by the organisations supporting Mwafulirwa’s asylum bid. She has not verified whether or not the dirt is genuine. From a little googling, I see that all of those capitalised words, in very similar phrases, are trotted out repeatedly by LGBT activists in supporting asylum bids by nationals from countries all over the World, and not just Malawi.

    Ms Carrie, Waverly Care, and Unity Centre Glasgow are all Scottish based. There is a friendship thingie called the Scotland-Malawi Partnership. It strikes me that if you have a problem with your friend, then you discuss it privately with them. You do not search the internet, selecting the worst possible dirt without verification, and then reposting on the internet.

    Ms Carrie writes, “For me, it’s not about whether or not Angeline is telling the truth”. In that case, she could have made her points just as well if she had referred to Mwafulirwa as “Angela from Africa” (say). By mentioning on the internet that Mwafulirwa is from Malawi, and dumping the dirt on our country which she has, Ms Carrie risks alienating Mwafulirwa from her family. If granted permanent residency in the UK, will she have the courage to visit her home and face her fellow Malawians after she has allowed her country to be defamed?

    • Carrie Lyell Carrie Lyell says:

      Hi Peter

      As you know from the discussions we’ve had, I am quite happy to discuss our opposing viewpoints on this case, but I must say I do think it rather unfair for you to take words from my blog out of context as it then appears that i was saying something quite different than I was. I’m also disappointed as I believed we had come to a resolution.

      The point that I made in our earlier discussions remains: the point of this article was not to pour scorn on Malawi, or to get to the bottom of whether or not Angeline was telling the truth. My intention was to examine the treatment of asylum seekers by the UK Home Office and the attitudes of the wider public in the UK.

      I am happy to talk about any of the points you have mentioned, but I feel like this isn’t really the best place. For example, the Scotland-Malawi Partnership, is not exactly relevant to this particular site. Perhaps it would be a good idea for you to write a blog post of your own to tackle the issues that you mention?


      • Peter Nkosi says:

        Ms Carrie,

        Thanks for your reply. I am sorry that you are disappointed in me. I have not understood our resolution.

        Quoting your blog is justified, to show that your article would have been just as relevant to the issues which you want to raise if you had referred to Mwafulirwa’s case in more general terms, especially as you write in the article, “For me, it’s not about whether or not Angeline is telling the truth”. There was no need to refer specifically to Mwafulirwa from Malawi, when you appear to know little or nothing about her case or her country.

        Your article appears on this webpage, so the best place to discuss it is right here. I can not go away and start my own blog, because I do not know how to do that. In any case, what you want is for me to find an obscure corner of cyberspace to go to, and to sit there mumbling to myself.

        (I want it to be clear that I am not against LBGT, and that I can say nothing about the bit of Mwafulirwa’s asylum bid which is based on her sexuality.)

        Thank you.

  7. Milly Shaw Milly Shaw says:

    Hi Peter

    I think Carrie has addressed all of your points, and I’m not sure there is much value in continuing this discussion. Be assured that your comments will remain on this article so that people can read Carrie’s articles and also your input, and make up their own minds.

  8. Gina Ware says:

    Gay rights are human rights, that is the key point that matters to me as a UK voter. The issue of a case like Angeline’s knits into a great deal else in British culture and politics and our identity as a nation. Too many weasel words and arguments are used to distract from our progress as a compassionate country. Whether Malawi or anywhere else one case of prosecution, or anti-gay violence insufficiently responded to by the authorities is far too many. I don’t know a great deal about Malawi but along with Carrie I care about whether the UK treats this woman and her kids right and also that those of us fortunate to live in freer countries stay informed and aware of what life is like for millions of very likely invisible and fear-governed gay people worldwide in regimes and societies that will not accept them.

Carrie Lyell


Lesbilicious Brighton Review – May 2012

Lesbilicious as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival 2012

May 22, 2012