Monday, 4 July 2011

In Australia, fears for gay refugees under 'swap deal' with Malaysia

Malaysia's FlagImage by .ET. via Flickr

Source: SX News

By Serkan Ozturk

With the proposed asylum seeker swap between Australian and Malaysia due to begin shortly, the Human Rights Commission (HRC), Greens and gay and lesbian rights groups have voiced their alarm and concern that refugees who happen to identify as LGBTI may face significant discrimination and persecution once transferred.

The calls intensified after Malaysia – along with Russia and Uganda – was one of only 19 nations to have voted against a recently passed UN resolution promoting gender and sexuality rights, of which Australia was a co-sponsor of.

Gay sex is illegal in Malaysia and homosexuals face discrimination from government policies, such as a law that makes sodomy punishable by 20 years in prison.

Earlier this year, the BBC also reported how education officials in the conservative Malay state of Terengganu compelled over 60 boys identified as ‘effeminate’ to attend special religious and physical camps for counselling on masculine behaviour.

HRC president Catherine Branson told SX that as a party to the Refugee Convention, Australia has agreed to ensure that people who meet the definition of refugee under the Convention are not sent back to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened.

This is known as the principle of non-refoulement.
“Under this principle, if Australia were to return a person to a country where they were at risk of persecution due their sexuality and or gender identity, there would be a risk that Australia could be breaching the principle of non-refoulement,” Branson said.
Senthorun Raj, from the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, told SX that sexual and gender minorities in Malaysia not only lack recognition, but also experience considerable and serious maltreatment.
“It is extremely concerning that Australia is proposing to 'swap' asylum seekers with a country that is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention.

“If the proposed asylum swap takes place, LGBTI asylum seekers may be caught in an absurd situation where they are held for 'processing' by a Government that not only refuses to recognise their status as refugees, but also persecutes them on the basis of their sex, sexuality or gender diversity,” Raj said.
Greens’ immigration and LGBTI spokesperson, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, told SX that Malaysia does not have a good record when it comes to LGBTI rights.
“If there are people on Christmas Island who have fled their homeland because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, it would be grossly irresponsible for Australia to be sending asylum seekers to an environment where their human rights are not protected,” Hanson-Young said.
The warnings came as federal Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison returned last week from a recent visit to Malaysia, suggesting that local officials had told him there would be “no preferential treatment” for the 800 asylum seekers the Australian Government is planning to send in return for 4000 people who have already been granted refugee status.
"That means, and we went through this, they won't be able to go to public schools, they won't be able to go to public hospitals unless they pay, they won't have work rights, which leaves them very exposed.

“They confirmed to us in the meeting they'd have to find their own accommodation when they got out of that initial place for processing. They've got to pay for that,” Morrison told the ABC.
A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen told SX that while there would be “no blanket exemptions under the agreement”, asylum seekers transferred to Malaysia could expect to be treated with dignity and respect while undergoing health and identity checks before being released into the community.
“We also have the involvement and close consultation of the UNHCR, who will assist and process any asylum seekers transferred,” the spokesperson said.

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