The federal government has been accused of favouring Christian asylum seekers over their homosexual counterparts following reports this week that Christian converts would be granted refugee status.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported the government would reconsider the cases of 30 detainees who had converted to Christianity and would therefore possibly be persecuted if sent home to their countries of origin.

This represented a terrible double standard, gay rights activist Rodney Croome said, as homosexual detainees needed to prove they had already been persecuted to receive a protection visa.

It takes possible persecution on the grounds of religion much more seriously than actual persecution on the grounds of sexuality, Croome said.

Why is it treating persecution on the grounds of religion differently to persecution on the grounds of sexuality? It’s obviously because they have a Christian constituency that they wish to please.

The move also outraged Muslims and Labor Party politicians, with some fearing a spate of false conversions.

Prime Minister John Howard denied claims the government was biased toward Christians. The idea that we would introduce something that is peculiar only to people who convert to Christianity -“ that’s not correct, he told ABC Radio.

We are nonetheless concerned when people can demonstrate that by having embraced a particular religious belief they may suffer persecution if they go back to a particular country.

A gay detainee in Villawood Detention Centre who contacted Sydney Star Observer said he was angry after hearing reports of the Christian converts. The 33-year-old Muslim, who has been detained for six months and asked not to be named, said it was unfair.

There a lot of people here who’ve been persecuted in their country for other reasons, the man said. He claimed he fled to Australia from his home in Morocco, where homosexuality is illegal and he was harassed and arrested.

The government should look at all our cases. I can’t go back to Morocco because I’ve been found guilty of homosexuality, which means three years’ jail and I just don’t want to go back.

Until early last year the Refugee Review Tribunal didn’t recognise persecution on the grounds of homosexuality. Their position had always been that if gay men simply hid their sexuality they wouldn’t be persecuted.

The Australian High Court over-ruled that policy in November 2003 in a case involving a gay couple from Bangladesh who were detained at Villawood.

Croome said he was concerned immigration officials would start questioning people’s claims of homosexuality.

That’s what happens in other countries, I assume because they’re worried people will claim they’re homosexual when they’re not in order to be granted refugee status.

The case of the Christian converts raises the same issues, but I imagine no one would question them, he said.

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