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Saturday, 7 November 2009

Australia: Refugees Need Not Apply

Villawood Detention Centre, SydneyImage by .M. via Flickr

Source: GayNZ.com

By Craig Young

Australia's draconian refugee and asylum policies are back in the news. How do they affect lesbian/gay refugees and asylum seekers from oppressive countries of origin?

In fact, Australia's Refugee Review Tribunal's decision making processes are appallingly dysfunctional, chaotic and not even remotely based on best practice evidential quality, according to Sydney's Professor Jenni Millbank. In 2003, Professor Millbank authored a scathing report on the RRT, Burdened By Proof. The title is highly ironic, as well as wholly inapplicable. To state that the RRT has lack of transparency in decision making procedures would be a gross understatement. In some instances, 'information' about LGBT refugee and asylum seeker countries of origin was woefully out of date.

Understandably, she also questioned the use of the Spartacus International Gay Travel Guide (!) as an "authoritative" account of LGBT human rights in those societies. As noted in its title, this is a tourist booklet. It contains cursory information about local LGBT experiences and human rights standards, and is primarily oriented toward affluent gay male overseas tourists. It has even been used to jerry rig cases against lesbian applicants for refugee or asylum status, despite the absence of information about lesbians within it. It is certainly no substitute for the depth and breadth of LGBT human rights analyses from Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch, yet has been used to trump those. In other cases, gay porn sites were consulted to provide distorted pictures of existence in the applicant's countries of origin.

In October 2008, Ali Humayan (Pakistan) described his experiences in privately run Villawood Detention Centre. He was fleeing sexual abuse and antigay religious prejudice in his country of origin and ended up in Villawood after appalling behaviour from the Department of Immigration and University of Canberra. He became hooked on heroin, provided by the guards at the facility. Although he eventually got out of the facility and his application for asylum was successful, he now has a methadone habit and is unemployed and in debt. Other former Villawood detainees and staff corroborate his story.

And yes, this is still happening. As the Daily Telegraph recently related, two Bangladeshi gay men arein the process of seekingasylum in Australia.While the couple offered to have sex before Australian immigration officials to prove their sexuality, they will have toappeal their case for protection visas for the fourth time in over a decade. The coupletold the Daily Telegraphthat they feareddeath if their latest bid for refugee status is once again refused at a hearing later this month.

It isn't the first time that concerns have been raised in this context. It is reported that a Federal Court judge recently criticised the Refugee Review Tribunal over this case, finding it was "deliberately biased" against the two applicants. Justice Spender found three previous tribunals had "twisted facts"to deny the men were gay, usingabsurd claims they were straight brothers. This was later refuted by DNA testing after anonymous phone call allegations.

While a first tribunal found they were indeed homosexual, it refused them entry on the grounds they could avoid persecution in Bangladesh if they werecloseted. The High Court overturned this verdict and upheld their appeal stating the gay couple faced a "real risk" of harm if they were deported back to Bangladesh.

Increasingly frustrated by the process, they offered the following in a submission: "We are prepared to have an adult witness view us engaged in an act of homosexual intercourse and then attest before you to that fact."

In 2007, the tribunal asked one of the two men an intrusive question: "if he and the second applicant have sex in the morning" and "if they used a lubricant." The older partner said he had been "too embarrassed to answer the personal questions", which was later used against him. Human rights lawyer Bruce Levet described the tribunal's conduct as "disgraceful" in the latter context and added: "I was ashamed to be a lawyer." The men had lived monogamously for 14 years and did not frequent gaypubs orparticipate in the localgay community. Mr Levet said they had "struggled" to convince the RRAT. He said the Commonwealth had resisted granting the asylum test case for fear of a wave of LGBT human rights refugees.

The pair live in southwest Sydney and fled Bangladesh in 1999 after they were stoned, kicked and punched during an antigay hate crime in their country of origin. Meanwhile, the Refugee ReviewTribunal have announced yet another appeal date.

Australia. Stupid one day, neanderthal the next.

Recommended:

"We'll have sex to prove we are gay, say Bangladesh refugees:" Daily Telegraph: 18.10.09: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/.../story-e6freuy9-1225787718526

"Welcome to Australia/ Refugee Tribunal or Kangaroo Court" DNA 108: October 2008: 95-98.
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