There are growing calls for offshore detentions centres on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and Nauru to be closed and for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison to resign over his handling of the death of asylum seeker Reza Berati.
An Iranian Kurd, 23-year-old Berati arrived on Christmas Island five days after then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced last July that all refugees arriving in Australia by boat would be processed and indefinitely detained on Manus Island.
In response, on Saturday about 600 people protested outside Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s electoral office at Manly in Sydney’s northern beaches.
Speaking at the rally, organised by the Refugee Action Coalition, Metropolitan Community Church pastor and Community Action Against Homophobia co-convenor Karl Hand said it was important for the LGBTI community to show its support for asylum seekers, some of whom were fleeing persecution because of their sexuality or gender identity.
“The threat of expulsion to Manus Island is particularly terrifying for some asylum seekers given the criminalisation of homosexuality in Papua New Guinea,” Hand told the Star Observer.
“Amnesty International said last year that staff would be forced to report suspected same-sex activity in the detention centre. PNG can prosecute same-sex people with a penalty of 14 years jail.
“However, the LGBTI community has the power to stop people being deported to such dangerous destinations. When the community has fought for refugees to be granted asylum, it has generally succeeded.”
Amnesty International researcher Graeme McGregor, who visited the Manus facility recently and compiled a report that compared it to a “torture camp”, told the Star Observer this week that concerns for LGBTI asylum seekers on the island still stood with Morrison not accepting any of the 70 recommendations made in the report to guarantee the safety of detainees.
“They continue to be told they are not allowed to have sex and that if they do engage in sexual activity there is a system of mandatory reporting to PNG police,” McGregor said.
“Obviously, as we have seen there are serious concerns about the conduct of the PNG police… We also continue to have concerns about the fact that condoms are not allowed to be distributed within the facility which poses a serious health risk within the camp to all the men in the facility.”
Soon after Berati’s death on February 17, Morrison had alleged he died after rioting and escaping the centre along with others.
However, over the weekend Morrison admitted that initial information was incorrect.
“I wish to confirm that contrary to initial reports received, I have received further information that indicates that the majority of the riotous behaviour that occurred, and the response to that behaviour to restore order to the centre, took place within the perimeter of the centre,” he said.
“The further information I have now received casts further doubt on the initial advice that his injuries were sustained outside the centre.”
Last night, candlelight vigils in memory of Berati took place across the country co-organised by lobby group GetUp, Amnesty International and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre with up to 10,000 people attending the gatherings in Melbourne and Sydney.
“The truth is we just don’t know what’s happening in these places, the government’s shut off the lights, taking censorship to an unprecedented level,” GetUp national director Sam McLean said.
“It’s past time to switch those lights back on – we need a truly independent inquiry into this tragedy and proper public scrutiny of these places.”
Greens leader Christine Milne has called for a Royal Commission into Australia’s offshore detention system for refugees while also calling for Morrison to resign.
Morrison’s office did not return the Star Observer’s calls nor respond to emails and Facebook messages seeking clarification on the safety of LGBTI refugees on Manus Island.