The current political situation

During the draw-down of coalition forces in Afghanistan, the Taliban staged a rapid advance and captured the Afghan capital, Kabul, on 15 August 2021. They are now in effective control of the country.

Prior to the Taliban’s capture of Kabul, the UN warned the situation in Afghanistan “has the hallmarks of humanitarian catastrophe.” Of particular concern have been reports of high levels of civilian casualties and growing humanitarian need.

With the political situation coming to a head, this has contributed to significant internal displacement and an expected rise in an already large number of refugees.

There are around 2.6 million UNHCR-registered refugees from Afghanistan globally. These figures are likely to underestimate the true number.

For further information, see the Library briefing on Afghanistan: Refugees and displaced people in 2021.

LGBTQ+ rights in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is an ultra-conservative country, politically, religiously and socially. It is also a country divided along strong ethnic and local lines.

In August 2021 the Taliban seized control of the country and has moved to form an Islamic Emirate based upon Sharia law.

Even prior to the Taliban seizing power, acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community was extremely low. Harassment by the police of individuals perceived to be part of the LGBTQ+ community was not uncommon, with reports of blackmail either for money or sexual favours. Within their own families, individuals were often subject to domestic violence by family members and forced into arranged marriages. “Honour killings” were also not uncommon. As a result, many LGBTQ+ individuals concealed their sexual orientation for fear of harassment and punishment, and often led double lives.

Under Sharia law, however, homosexual acts are considered a major sin and punishable with flogging or potentially the death penalty. 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.

Under the Taliban the rights of LGBTQ+ people are therefore expected to rapidly decline.

The Government’s position

The Minister of State for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Nigel Adams) detailed the steps that the Government is taking to protect members of the LGBTQ+ community in Afghanistan in answer to a recent PQ:

Minister for Human Rights Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon addressed the UN Human Rights Council on 24 August to underscore the UK’s commitment to protecting the human rights of all Afghan people. The UK also led work on the recent UN Security Council resolution, demonstrating our commitment to holding the Taliban to account on human rights. We are working urgently with neighbouring countries to ensure that at-risk Afghans who are eligible to come to the UK can secure for safe passage.

As the Prime Minister said in his statement of 6 September, we will also include Afghans who have contributed to civil society or who face a particular risk from the Taliban, for example because of their role in standing up for democracy and human rights or because of their gender, sexuality or religion. The impact of the crisis in Afghanistan on women and girls and other vulnerable groups, including religious and ethnic minorities and LGBT+ people, is of deep concern. The Taliban must respect the rights of all minority groups, both now and in the future and we will hold them to account for their actions. The UK is urgently developing a new settlement scheme for 20,000 Afghans most at risk who will be eligible to apply. We are prioritising vulnerable groups in the UK’s response.

Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme (ACRS)

The Government confirmed on 18 August that it is introducing a bespoke scheme to enable vulnerable Afghan citizens to be resettled in the UK. The scheme will prioritise the following groups:

  • those who have assisted the UK efforts in Afghanistan and stood up for values such as democracy, women’s rights, freedom of speech, and rule of law
  • vulnerable people, including women and girls at risk, and members of minority groups at risk (including ethnic and religious minorities and LGBT+)[1]

People resettled in the UK under the ACRS will be granted indefinite leave to remain immediately. Indefinite leave to remain gives the holder permission to work and access welfare benefits and healthcare, and a direct path to naturalising as a British citizen.

The Government has said that it is aiming to resettle up to 20,000 Afghans under the ACRS over the next few years, including up to 5,000 in the first year of operation. It is unclear how many LGBTQ+ Afghan refugees will be resettled through the scheme, which is not yet open.

The ACRS will operate in addition to existing refugee resettlement schemes, which have a broader geographical focus (the UK Resettlement Scheme, Community Sponsorship, and the Mandate Resettlement Scheme). The Home Office has not established targets/quotas for the number of people to be resettled in the UK under any of the other schemes.

The Home Office has published a Factsheet providing further information on the ACRS and other immigration routes for Afghan nationals.

In response to a recent PQ, the Government confirmed that “all asylum claims that are lodged from within the UK, including those from Afghan nationals that are based on sexual orientation or gender identity, will be carefully considered on their individual merits in accordance with our international obligations”. It said that it would not be allowing asylum claims from Afghan nationals abroad. 

Other countries’ responses

The Canadian government has announced a new special humanitarian program to resettle Afghans who are outside of Afghanistan and do not have a durable solution in a third country. The program will focus on vulnerable groups, including LGBTI individuals.

While some other countries have agreed to take in Afghan refugees, they have not explicitly committed to prioritising LGBTQ+ people.

Statistics

The Home Office does not publish comprehensive statistics on all reasons for asylum claims, however it does publish a collection specifically on asylum claims on the basis of sexual orientation (tables SOC_00 to SOC_04 in quarterly Immigration statistics).

These are claims where sexual orientation (being lesbian, gay, or bisexual) formed at least part of the basis for an asylum claim. Note that these data are experimental statistics and should be interpreted with caution.

Between 2015 and 2020, there were 10,230 applications identified as being on the basis of sexual orientation, which was around 6% of all applications. During the same period, 2,956 asylum grants were made on this basis, also making up 6% of grants.

Over the same period there were 80 applications from Afghans on the basis of sexual orientation, which made up less than 1% of applications from Afghans. Data on grants is suppressed because the number was fewer than 5 per year (suggesting no more than 30 grants over this time).

Further reading

Debates

Afghanistan Policy [HC Deb 13 September cc683-403]

Afghanistan: FCDO Update [HL Deb 7 September 2021 cc813-26]

Afghanistan: FCDO Update [HC Deb 6 September 2021 cc43-66]

PQs

Parliamentary Questions on LGBTQ+ people in Afghanistan

Government

Home Office, Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme, 18 August 2021 [updated 13 September 2021]

Home Office, Country Policy and Information Note Afghanistan: Sexual orientation and gender identity, January 2017 [Taken from the National Archives website] – This document is no longer available on GOV.UK and, given recent developments, it is unlikely to reflect current policy. It is included for background information.

Organisations

Rainbow Migration, Open letter to the Foreign Secretary regarding the safety and security of LGBTQ+ Afghans, 24 August 2021

Rainbow Railroad (Global NGO that provides aid and asylum to LGBT+ people), Statement on the Situation of LGBTQI+ People in Afghanistan, 18 August 2021

European Asylum Support Office, Country Guidance: Afghanistan, 2019

Human Rights Watch, Afghan LGBT Asylum Seekers in UK Among Most Vulnerable, 26 February 2017

[1] Home Office, Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme, 13 September 2021


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