The Irish government recently published Statutory Instrument 230 of 2018 which regulates reception conditions for asylum seekers. The regulations also provide for how the State will treat vulnerable persons in the asylum process.
But the meaning of “vulnerable person” is contested. The regulations, and the International Protection Act of 2015 both exclude LGBT+ people in their definition of vulnerable person. The regulations provide the following definition:
“A reference in these Regulations to a vulnerable person includes a reference to a person who is a minor, an unaccompanied minor, a person with a disability, an elderly person, a pregnant woman, a single parent of a minor, a victim of human trafficking, a person with a serious illness, a person with a mental disorder, and a person who has been subjected to torture, rape or other form of serious psychological, physical or sexual violence.”
Some legal scholars have argued that the definition is not exhaustive and uses the word “includes” thus LGBT+ may be read into it during administration of the regulations. And indeed, the Department of Justice suggested that LGBT+ people would be included in vulnerability assessments. But not having it explicitly written in law can be disempowering for an LGBT+ person who must endure homophobia and transphobia in Direct Provision.
The need for law to be explicit when protecting any marginalised or vulnerable group has always been there. Brazil’s constitution forbade the government from drawing distinctions among Brazilians. But we know that for years, the Brazilian government refused to allow people of the same sex to get married.
The same can be said for Nigeria’s constitution which says that everyone is equal before the law and shall enjoy equal protection and benefit from the law. Same lines can be found in the Zimbabwean constitution yet LGBT+ people in both countries do not enjoy equal benefit and protection from the law. They are criminalised.
This is because equality is interpreted to exclude LGBT+ people. That is where the problem is with the Statutory Instrument that excludes LGBT+ people on its definition of vulnerable persons seeking protection in Ireland. It can be interpreted to exclude an LGBT+ person.
For instance, an LGBT+ woman who applied for protection in Ireland died in a Direct Provision centre that is meant to accommodate men. This is because the Irish government did not accept her as a woman and placed her in a men’s accommodation centre in Galway. Her death serves as a reminder that Direct Provision dehumanises people. It is demoralising to flee persecution on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, only to be subjected to the same bigotry in your chosen place of sanctuary.
I never thought that I would have to re-live the fear of being possibly stoned to death when I applied for protection in Ireland. Yet I was forced to share a bedroom with a homophobic man in Direct Provision. When he learnt that I am Gay he said, “I don’t like that shit” and went on to say, “boys are meant to be with girls.” And we still had to share a bedroom, bathroom and dine together.
In the first few weeks of arriving in the Direct Provision centre, I heard homophobic slurs from other asylum seekers from my country. I informed the International Protection Office about this in February 2018 and they couldn’t be bothered to do anything about it.
There are other LGBT+ asylum seekers who have similar experiences and the government knows this. The argument that the government will read LGBT+ persons into the interpretation of the regulations is nonsensical when you consider the lived experiences of LGBT+ people in Direct Provision.
When an LGBT+ person seeks protection in Ireland, the last thing they expect is to be subjected to State sponsored transphobia and homophobia. The Irish government should phase out Direct Provision. Ireland has not had Direct Provision since the beginning of time. Asylum seekers were not institutionalised prior to the rollout of Direct Provision. Surely someone in the Irish government remembers how to treat vulnerable people humanely.