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Saturday, 3 April 2010

Australia: Gay Egyptians granted refugee status

Source: Australian Gay and Lesbian Law Blog

A gay Egyptian has been granted refugee status by the Refugee Review Tribunal. The Tribunal found that if the applicant were to return to Egypt it could not exclude as "remote and insubstantial" the risk of being persecuted, including being tortured by authorities, simply for being gay, and that he would not have "adequate and effective" state protection in Egypt.

The applicant had a hard life in Egypt and felt sad as a result. When he was 13 or 14 years old he had many questions about “sex”, but he was afraid to ask his parents or siblings for answers. Eventually, he befriended his next door neighbour, who became his first boyfriend. Through him, many of his questions about sex were answered. He went to his boyfriend’s house when there was no one home and they engaged in sexual activity. He began to realise that he is “gay”. He was always very scared and worried about people discovering the relationship.

When he was 16 years old, he met another boy whose father was a policeman and mostly absent from home. He went to this person’s house and they engaged in sexual activity, but he was always afraid of the consequences if his partner’s parents were to find out about the relationship. He also started feeling mistrustful of everyone around him, including members of his own family, thinking that they either know or may come to know about his sexual orientation.

At college, he began a sexual relationship with another male partner. Soon after, however, his partner was told by his parents that he should get married. They also told him not to speak to the applicant because they did not like him. His partner ultimately felt compelled to end the relationship because he was fearful of his parents.

After this, the applicant realised that his life in Egypt meant being afraid all his life and he decided to come to Australia to escape his predicament.

In Australia he met his current partner, Person A, who was also Egyptian. His relationship with Person A was the “best relationship” he has ever had, because he can conduct this relationship without fear in a country that does not treat homosexuals as “animals deserve to get killed”.

The Department of Immigration was highly suspicious of the claim for refugee status in the case, known as 0908905, as is evidenced by these lines of questioning:

It was put to him that it is not that unusual for males in Egypt to engage in sexual activity with other males before they get married. He was asked why his early experiences defined him as “gay”. He said he was engaged in sexual activity with Person E for two years and they loved each other. He was asked what made him certain that this was a definitive experience in determining his sexual identity. He said after their relationship started deteriorating and he stopped seeing him, he felt a huge gap and felt that he needed to be with a “boy” the whole time. At the end of his relationship with Person E he was certain about his sexual identity. This led to the perpetual problem he was experiencing, being constantly fearful. He started thinking that he was sick and abnormal and that everyone was suspecting him of being gay. He started to feel very lonely and shy. When he was in public places he became attracted to males and this caused him many problems because he could not express this desires.

He was asked if members of his family are aware of his sexual orientation. He said he could not say with certainty that this was the case. No one asked him directly whether he was gay and he was very discreet. However, he ‘felt’ that everyone knew. This was reflected in the way he behaved towards his family and others. He isolated himself and did not talk to any one.

He was asked if he knew any gay men in his home country. He said no. He was asked what were the difficulties he faced in meeting other gay men were. He said he felt paranoid about people and very scared.

He was asked if he was currently in a relationship. He said yes, he is in relationship with Person A. He explained that he met Person A in 2008 at work, when they were both working at a workplace in a named suburb. He further explained that the day they met was his first day at work and he was waiting around to start his shift. Person A passed him by, saw him, but did not realise that the applicant was Egyptian. Then, they started working together and found out that they were both Egyptian. After a week, during which many “things” happened, he realised Person A was gay. These things included Person A’s reaction when someone mentioned the word “gay”, the way he talked and his behaviour. The applicant started making “respectful”, sexually laced jokes with the intention of making sure that Person A was indeed gay. They realised that they were attracted to each and started flirting. Person A asked him out on a date and they went to a named venue. They wanted to go out to drink and dance and have a good time. No one goes to this area unless one is gay.

On their date, they first met at the train station and travelled to the city together. They proceeded to walk down the street and went to the venue. It was during the same night that they decided to live together.

He was asked why he had decided to form a relationship with Person A. He said because they are both homosexual and they danced together. Person A was the most suitable person for him because they could talk about what had happened to them in Egypt.

He was asked if their relationship is an exclusive relationship. He said yes, they are very loyal to each other. They go to a known area every weekend. They meet, dance and drink with many others, but that’s it. He has a friend in Person A.

He was asked if they socialised as a couple with others He said yes, but only in clubs and not at other places, such as work.

He was asked if he knew any gay men in Australia and if he socialised with them on a more frequent basis He said yes, but only at a very superficial level. He only goes to clubs to have fun and drink. He never thought of asking anyone to write a supporting statement for him.

He was asked if he has read any gay books or magazines. He said he viewed many homosexual videos. He was asked how he obtained these videos in Egypt. He said some of it he obtained from the internet and others through those he had relationships with.

He was asked if has accessed any gay internet sites. He said yes. He was asked what sites he regularly visits. He said he searches the internet through Google a lot and comes across many sites, where he goes to access photographs. There is no specific site he goes to.

He was asked when he started attending gay venues. He said about a month after he arrived in Australia he went to a known area. He had nothing to do and loved to walk around and that’s how he came across this area. He was very happy as he saw many gay men there.

He was asked what venues he goes to. He said he used to go to two venues, but he likes another venue because of the music and the friendly environment. He was asked if he attended any venues before meeting Person A. He said yes, on a weekly basis.

He was asked if he has had any other relationships in Australia He said no. He was asked why. He said because he was new to the country. He used to go, dance and laugh and that’s it.

The Tribunal referred to the membership cards he had submitted in support of his application for a protection visa and noted that one membership card is dated 2009. He was asked why he obtained a membership card in 2009. He said he used to go there sometimes and wanted to have a membership card so that he would not be obliged to take his passport with him. When pressed and asked why he had gone through the trouble of obtaining a membership card shortly before applying for a protection visa, he said he applied for membership when his passport started looking damaged as he carried it in his pocket while he danced.

The Tribunal referred to the photographs he had submitted to the delegate and asked the applicant when these photographs were taken He said he had bought a new camera and they went to the venues and took photographs. It was put to him that based on his oral evidence to the delegate he had bought the camera and taken the photographs shortly before the interview. He said this is not correct. Previously he used to take photographs with his mobile phone, but it was broken.

He was asked why he would embrace and kiss other men if he is already in an exclusive relationship. He said he just wanted to gain more friends and in reality he has no other relationships with anyone else.

It was put to him that the photographs appeared to be staged. He said both he and Person A like taking photographs of each other.

He was asked why he had waited two years to apply for a protection visa. He said he was very fearful of talking to anyone. When pressed, he said “fear” When asked to explain, he said he was afraid to tell anyone and when he realised he had rights, he applied. The more one lives in a place the more one learns about it. Even here he faced insults and assaults, making him fearful of being harmed. He was fearful of others coming to know about his sexual orientation if he applied.
The findings about state torture, although shocking, were not surprising:
The country information referred to above indicates that whilst homosexuality is not explicitly prohibited in Egyptian law, suspected homosexuals are routinely arrested and charged with “habitual debauchery” which carries a maximum sentence of three years imprisonment. Police routinely torture men suspected of homosexual conduct. In the past, the torture inflicted consisted of both physical and psychological methods, including being whipped, beaten, bound and suspended in painful positions, splashed with ice-cold water, burned with lit cigarettes, and mistreatment with electroshock on the limbs, genitals, or tongue.

Recent information indicates that suspected homosexual men continue to be subject to arrest and charge(d) for “habitual debauchery” or suspicion of having HIV. Those detained have been subjected to HIV tests without their consent and forensic anal examinations designed to prove that they had engaged in homosexual conduct. Whilst human rights advocates claim that local authorities are now targeting homosexual men having HIV due to the risk they pose to public health, this recent crackdown appears to be more likely an attempt by the Egyptian government to deflect local attention from public dissatisfaction with its response to the economic crisis vocalized in organized demonstrations in April 2008. Societal attitudes toward homosexuals and homosexuality in Egypt are mainly negative and “homosexuality is almost universally despised” and is viewed “as an immoral export from the West”.
The Refugee Review Tribunal has ruled in another case that a gay Egyptian is a refugee in the most recent decision, called 0908933:

The applicant realised he was gay when he was 14 or 15 years old. He was sitting with a friend in class, studying human reproductive organs and this led to a sexual relationship between them. On one occasion he was engaged in sexual activity in the school toilets when a teacher caught them. They were beaten by the teacher on the principal’s orders and they were eventually separated. At that time he was very young and could not exercise mature judgement.

About a week later, he accompanied his friend to a park where they were fooling around. They were seen hugging each other by undercover police. The police approached them and slapped the applicant on the face. After they were beaten, the police let them go.

The applicant handed the [official from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship]  photographs of him and Person A, in the company of other men, at various clubs in Australia. He stated that Person A had purchased the camera a few days before the interview. The applicant had difficulty remembering the names of those in the photographs and stated that he forgets names quickly and some people do not like to disclose their name.

He met his second sexual partner, Person B, at college. On one occasion he decided to visit his friend at home. Person B’s sister attended the same college. She knew the applicant and she had a crush on him without his knowledge. When he arrived at Person B’s house, no one was home except Person B’s sister. She told him that she loved him and that she wanted to have sex with him. He tried to explain to her that he did not like her. She cried upon hearing this, but at the end he just left his friend’s house. A day or two later when he returned to the college, he saw her standing with his friends. They were all looking at him and laughing and he felt that something was different.

He had no other relationships and had never frequented any gay venues in Egypt. The delegate put to him that there are a number of gay venues in Egypt. He said these places were far away from where he lived and were frequented by tourists which meant that they were very expensive. He conducted his relationships privately and did not go to any clubs or cruising spots. He was asked if he was involved with anyone other than Person A. He said no.

He met Person A while they were both working as labourers. They did not speak to each other straight away, but on Saturday they went out to a gay pub and danced together. He goes to a specific area every weekend, but only goes to three clubs, mostly the Colombian. The applicant was unaware of the Sleaze Ball and did not know that a big party had followed the Mardi Gras. He said he has never had a profile on a gay social networking site, but he would like to. He was asked if he had heard of any gay websites, such as Gaydar or Manjam. He said no.

He stated he shared a “double bed” with Person A and slept on the right side of the bed. He did most of the cooking and they helped each other in carrying out the house work.
The tribunal found that the applicant would be persecuted if he were to return to Egypt, including a risk of torture. It cited an article from Gulf News which stated that two Egyptian journalists were jailed  and a third heavily fined for suggesting that three celebrities had engaged in gay sex:
"Homosexuality is punishable under Egyptian law and sternly frowned upon in Sharia....Most public figures in Egypt want to avoid being connected to homosexuality, which could damage their popularity among Muslim fans. [One of the actors that the story was written about, Nour] Al Sharif did not seem bothered by the accusations of belonging to a prostitution network, but was frustrated at being described as a homosexual. 
"Naming me among homosexuals defamed me and all Egyptian artists. The Journalists Syndicate has to be firm with anyone trying to insult the dignity of Egyptian artists," he said.

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