Monday, 24 August 2009

New Zealand Refugee and Asylum Policy


By: Craig Young

After the resolution of provocation defence and adoption reform issues, asylum and refugee policy may be the next major area of concern for LGBT New Zealanders. As I’ve noted beforehand, there are a handful of homophobic ‘black spot’ nations whose LGBT inhabitants are at risk from human rights and civil liberties violations.

New Zealand should be doing more about this, through renewed governmental human rights initiatives and membership of multilateral forums like the United Nations, APEC and CHOGM. Furthermore, we should press for an increased overall intake of refugees and asylum seekers from societies like Uganda, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Iraq and Iran, given their current crises. Russia and Jamaica are in a different situation, given that Jamaica suffers from widespread poverty. However, economic pressure might be prudent in this situation, especially insofar as the United Nations and CHOGM are concerned. Perhaps UNDP Director Helen Clark could be constructively lobbied to this end.

Expatriate Australian UK LGBT rights activist Peter Tatchell is fiercely critical of the British asylum seeker process, arguing that it imposes impossible burdens on potential claimants who are trying to escape transphobic and homophobic persecution in their countries of origin. He argues that British asylum seeker policy seems deliberately intended toward often erroneous assumptions that all asylum seeker requests for sanctuary are somehow “fraudulent.” Detention, torture and rape are insufficient grounds in themselves, and LGBT asylum seekers may be forced to return to societies like Iran or Jamaica, which have execrable LGBT human rights and civil liberties records, he argues.

Granted, New Zealand doesn’t have as dire a recent history of asylum seeker abuse as Australia did during the Howard era, and its shameful detention seeker camps in the outback, in which asylum seekers did not receive social welfare benefits and suffered prolonged isolation and imprisonment until the Rudd administration closed them down. However, in our own case, the Ahmed Zaoui case suggests that refugee and asylum policy here may not be as resilient as it could be. One should watch forthcoming developments in this policy area with interest and concern.

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