THE government’s new asylum seeker laws could see genuine LGBTI refugees deported to oppressive regimes, refugee advocates and legal experts have claimed.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson has confirmed he was actively raising the issue of the repatriation of LGBTI refugees with senior ministers.
The bill, which also reintroduced temporary protection visas, became law on December 5.
Human Rights Law Centre legal advocacy director Daniel Webb said the new legislation “throws out the rule book” by excising all references to the UN Refugee Convention.
He was particularly scathing on an increase in the circumstances asylum seekers could now be returned to their country of origin.
“What that means for gay asylum seekers is that… if there is some far-flung corner of their home country where they can hide out for the rest of their lives and avoid the persecution they fled they’ll do that,” Webb said.
“They may not speak the language in that part of the country, they may have no family connections, nowhere to live, no ability to find work, it could be completely unreasonable to expect them to go to that country but… they will be returned.”
Webb also criticised the removal of the right of to appeal for refugees saying the move introduced “administrative short cuts into life or death decisions”.
Up to 70 per cent of rejections that are appealed are overturned, said Webb, “so rather than improving the process we are removing access to the tribunal that corrects those mistakes”.
Senior Solicitor and Migration Agent at the Refugee Advice and Casework Service, Jemma Hollonds, said “almost all the cases” they saw were rejected in the first instance.
Neil Grungras, founder of ORAM International, an organisation that advocates for LGBTI refugees, said the new laws meant Australia was “well on its way to becoming impenetrable for LGBT asylum seekers”.
He also said many LGBTI refugees faced bigotry from their own communities even when they reached Australia.
LGBTI activist and Ukrainian refugee Krystyna Posunkina supported the statement, saying she had received no support from the Ukrainian or Russian communities when she was applying for asylum and even felt ignored by the Sydney gay community.
Wilson, who also spoke at the event, said the plight of LGBTI people seeking asylum was one of the first issues he raised after being appointed to the Human Rights Commission.
“I am working with the government and the minister on these issues to ensure that asylum seekers seeking protection on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity get their applications properly and fairly assessed and that refoulment does not occur,” he told the Star Observer.
He said there had been a “high degree of amenity and interest” from the government but there was still some distance to go.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison did not respond to the Star Observer’s request for comment.