AS I sit down to write my column this week, Westminster is still in shock following the brutal murder of Sir David Amess. The tributes to him were warm, heartfelt and humbling.

The universal esteem in which he was held is a reminder that there is good (as well as bad) in every political party. Although he held many political positions with which I and readers of this column would strongly disagree, Sir David was undoubtedly a kind and generous man who tried to do the right thing according to his conscience. The UK Parliament is the poorer for his loss.

Sir David (below) spent his entire parliamentary career, which spanned four decades, as a backbencher. Backbenchers, freed from the onerous duties of ministers or shadow ministers, have more time on our hands to pursue good causes brought to our attention by constituents or campaign groups and he was very skilled at doing so.

The National: Sir David Amess MP

While the primary focus of any SNP MP must be independence for Scotland, it is only right that for so long as we are at Westminster, we use the power we have as MPs to do good for those who struggle to help themselves and Sir David’s career is a good exemplar of how to do that.

When I heard of his murder last week, I was preparing to travel to speak at a large international feminist conference in Portsmouth. I decided still to go and although the weekend was interrupted by constant press requests for comment on MP safety in the wake of Sir David’s killing, I was glad I had gone, particularly as I had the opportunity to meet live via Zoom with women in Africa who really need the help and support of parliamentarians in Scotland and the UK.

The women I met with are lesbians living in a refugee camp in Kakuma in the north-western region of Kenya. It’s been there for nearly 30 years and together with the nearby Kalobeyei settlement it houses around 200,000 refugees and asylum seekers. Lesbians escaping violence and lesbophobia in their home countries are sent to the Kakuma refugee camp by the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, because it has a dedicated LGBT Block 13. However, this identifies them to other refugees in the camp and they suffer ongoing violence and abuse as a result.

Unfortunately, both the UNHCR and local police are failing to protect them. As well as inadequate food and shelter, along with other LGBT refugees, these young lesbian women and their children are suffering constant physical and sexual abuse. Women are being raped.

The violence in the camps is awful. In the last few months, a baby died after being hit by a tear gas canister and two young men were attacked with a firebomb. One of them later died from his injuries. Despite this, the women told us they still struggle to get the UNHCR or the local police to take their concerns seriously.

It’s a difficult issue. Much of Africa is still deeply homophobic and lesbophobic. Many of the women who spoke to us had fled Uganda after being subjected to abusive forced marriages. They had endured both domestic and sexual violence, suffering from their vulnerability both as women and as lesbians in a country where same-sex acts are illegal. When these women make it to Kakuma they continue to be at risk both as a result of their sex and their sexual orientation.

While adequate food, shelter and medical assistance are a priority, the UNHCR needs to provide some form of security for these women and to provide legal advice to enable them to move on with their immigration status.

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The British Government also needs to do more, particularly given our historic links with Uganda and Kenya. Priti Patel is the child of Ugandan Asians who were welcomed by the UK when Idi Amin (above) expelled them from their home country in the 1970s. I intend to remind her of this as I ask her to do something to help the women of Block 13.

With same-sex relationships being illegal in modern-day Uganda, many LGBT Ugandans live secret lives, presenting as straight to the world. The necessity to do that often makes it more difficult from them to prove their sexuality if they can make it to the UK where they come up against a tough asylum system.

Shamefully, Home Office officials often ask inappropriate and demeaning questions of LGBT refugees from Uganda and our asylum system retraumatises the already traumatised pushing them through humiliating hoops to prove their sexuality.

This needs to change but sadly the Nationality Bill going through the Commons will make our already hostile asylum scheme worse.

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This week, as protesters outside Parliament demanded that the UK make refugees welcome, at the Joint Committee of Human Rights we heard evidence from legal experts, Medecins Sans Frontieres and the UNHCR about the terrible impact this bill will have on Britain’s once-proud reputation as a “Global Refugee Champion”.

Rather than pushing back or criminalising asylum seekers in the English Channel, the UK Government needs to provide safe legal routes to the UK and to collaborate with other countries on global resettlement schemes. The misery of Afghans who fled their country to Britain only to languish in shoddy hotel rooms without work or schooling is shameful and makes a travesty of the promised “Operation Warm Welcome”.

This petty, mean approach will only change if politicians and members of the public pressurise Tory MPs to honour our humanitarian responsibilities.

Meantime if you want to help the women of Block 13 in Kakuma you can do so by writing to UNHCR as well as your MP. Full information and template letters can be found at