THERE are no redeeming features of the Abbott Government’s confused and cruel asylum seeker policy.
It is a policy designed for domestic political purposes to generate unfounded fear in the Australian public, and to indiscriminately keep out of our country people who have often run for their lives from brutal, ruthless and dangerous regimes. These regimes often criminalise homosexuality, making it impossible for many to live or be accepted by their families and communities let alone achieve their full potential.
This is worsened by the Abbott Government’s policy of secrecy and deception. It is a policy that deliberately breaks the will of people who make the treacherous journey to Australia with the hope of a safer life.
The Greens are deeply concerned by Prime Minister Abbott’s policy of sending LGBTI asylum seekers to countries where homosexuality is illegal, and by reports that they have been threatened with being handed over to the authorities in those countries if they contravene detention centre rules.
Amnesty International’s report This is Breaking People documents some of the oppression, mistreatment and fear experienced by LGBTI people being processed in Papua New Guinea.
Same-sex acts between men are illegal in PNG. While other sexual acts are not mentioned in the Criminal Code, it is difficult to imagine how lesbian, bi, trans or intersex asylum seekers could feel safe and secure in a country that can imprison men for up to three years for engaging in sexual acts together. It is even harder to imagine how those
seeking asylum on the grounds of their sexuality could be reasonably expected to live in a country that criminalises same-sex sexual conduct. This alone is appalling and likely to constitute refoulement under the Refugee Convention.
Amnesty’s report highlights that the discrimination and mistreatment experienced by LGBTI asylum seekers extends beyond PNG’s Criminal Code. There are reports that staff at the detention centre have been instructed to report any same-sex sexual conduct to the PNG police (despite the fact that reporting is not mandatory), that sexual activity is prohibited and condoms are forbidden – measures that put the safety and well-being of asylum seekers at risk.
Amnesty’s report also includes testimonials from LGBTI asylum seekers that their fear of being persecuted had led to some of them changing their asylum claims and that harassment occurs within the detention centres.
On a human level, it is unforgivable to take persecuted, vulnerable people who have fled their home countries because their sexuality makes living there unsafe; and then lock them up in a country that incarcerates men on the basis of their sexuality. This persecutes them again.
Amnesty’s report describes asylum seekers who cannot sleep and are anxious and scared because of the hostile environment in which they have found themselves. We know that indefinitely detaining anyone is effectively sentencing them to a raft of mental health problems in the future. To go further and imprison LGBTI asylum seekers in a country that criminalises homosexuality, as the Abbott Government is doing, can only be described as inhumane.
We must never become complacent about discrimination and persecution. It is only 16 years ago that Tasmania decriminalised homosexuality, ending the 21-year jail term that applied until that time but many people are still living with the legacy; scars of fear, rejection and cruelty. How much will it be for people who, out of fear and hope have left their families, homes, culture and country in search of a life in which they can be free to be who they are – only to then find themselves alone and faced with prison and indefinite persecution.
PM Abbott and those on any side of politics who support this policy must be held responsible and accountable now and into the future. Justice demands no less.
Senator Christine Milne tweets under @senatormilne
LGBTI movement must think beyond national borders – Dennis Altman
Intersecting LGBTI and refugee rights – Senthorun Raj