REFUGEE advocates have raised fresh concerns about LGBTI asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island after an Amnesty International report released last week revealed poor conditions facing detainees.
Homosexuality remains illegal in PNG, with same-sex relations punishable with up to 14 years jail. Since July when then- Prime Minister Kevin Rudd introduced a policy of resettling all refugees arriving by boat in either Manus Island or Nauru, the population at the Manus facility has tripled to over 1000 people.
A gay refugee, who is now on a bridging visa after spending six months in Sydney’s Villawood Detention Centre, told the Star Observer that he sympathised with the LGBTI refugees on Manus Island. The Chinese-Indonesian man had previously spoken to this publication in late July after staff did not allow LGBTI media to be read within the premises.
“Even in Villawood you have to be careful not to mention that you are gay,” he said. “It’s much more difficult in PNG as it’s a different country.”
The Amnesty report stated that Manus Island had detainees enduring extreme heat and insufficient drinking water and medical help.
The report also highlighted claims of bullying of gay asylum seekers by staff and other detainees. The most senior Australian immigration official on the island, Renate Croker, is also alleged to have warned gay asylum seekers that any sexual relations between them would be reported to the local police. Amnesty International Australia refugee crisis spokesperson Graeme McGregor said they had spoken to gay men who detailed the extent to which they were forced to hide their true identities, including altering their asylum bids to remove any claims of sexuality persecution so as not to come to the attention of PNG authorities.
“It is also forbidden in the camp to distribute condoms and we believe that is a completely irresponsible decision,” he said.
“By sending gay men to Manus Island detention centre, we believe the Australian Government is committing refoulement and going against international treaties by sending them to a country where they face persecution and criminalisation.”
At his weekly media briefing for Operation Sovereign Borders last Friday, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison denied gay asylum seekers on Manus Island were being reported to PNG police.
“The department is unaware of any claims or declarations of homosexuality or any reports of homosexuality being investigated by police at the centre,” he said.