Tribunal needs reviewing

Tribunal needs reviewing

Anyone who read Harley Dennett’s report on gay Muslim asylum-seekers last week (“Refugee tribunal: you’re not gay”, SSO 877) will be outraged at some of the shocking judgments being handed down by the Refugee Review Tribunal board. But the case of Mohamed Sarhan and his Australian partner is just the latest in a string of mystifying Tribunal decisions going back years.

Immigration officers and Tribunal members have time and again shown a frightening lack of understanding of the situation these men face and an appalling narrow-mindedness when it comes to the realities of global gay identities.

A few years ago, in trying to determine if an applicant was genuinely gay, Tribunal members asked a Persian-speaking Iranian man questions about Oscar Wilde and Madonna and then refused him when he said he had no idea who they were. When this case was reviewed by the Federal Court, this line of questioning was actually upheld, the argument being that similar questions would have been reasonable in determining a claim based on religious affiliation.

Nor do they seem to understand the risks and cultural sensitivities involved for such men, even those who face returning to countries where homosexuality is not explicitly illegal.

Being a gay Muslim and proud of it or rejecting or changing one’s faith because of issues of sexuality may be interpreted by religious hardliners as “apostasy”, one of the worst transgressions in Islam and one traditionally punished by execution. Such men may also risk being the victims of honour killings by family members.

So when they appeal such decisions and seek out the media in support of their cases, they are not just asking for a second chance; they may be putting their lives at risk.

Today still, all over Iraq gay men are being entrapped online and then tortured and murdered.

Homosexuality is being re-criminalised by stealth across Indonesia under local “anti-prostitution” laws. And the swathe of state-sanctioned executions in Iran continues unabated.

If our government doesn’t want gay refugees coming here, then perhaps they might start by doing more internationally to reduce the need for them to flee in the first place. Surely in these days of suspicion, gay Muslims are the one group of migrants that we know are genuinely seeking out secular and tolerant societies.

Only the Greens seem to have taken up the issue in the face of a near deafening silence from the major parties.

Meanwhile, the government has released the details of its Australian values citizenship test. Rest assured, after successful lobbying by the Christian Right, applicants will be tested on their knowledge of Australia’s Judaeo-Christian heritage.

But if we must have a test, why not ensure new citizens know about the rights and protections afforded GLBT people in this country as well? That’s far more likely to keep out the radicals.

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