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Report: Gay asylum seekers living in fear on Manus Island

Posted in: Features
By Jacqui Stanford - 19th July 2015

A new report has raised concerns about the treatment of gay asylum seekers who are being mistreated in Australia's detention centre, and who fear their fate if they are resettled in Papua New Guinea - where gay sex is illegal.

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The processing centre on Manus Island (DIAC images, via Wikimedia Commons)

More than 850 male adult asylum seekers and 87 refugees remain living in overcrowded conditions at the processing centre. It’s two years since the former Labor government announced those who arrived by boat without a visa would be denied refugee status in Australia but resettled in Papua New Guinea, via assessment at Manus Island.

Since then, not one has been resettled. Two have died - one killed during and one from septicaemia after cutting his foot.

Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Law Centre says among the issues those held on the island are facing are pressure to return home, lengthy days in refugee processing and mental health problems from indefinite detention.

The situation for gay men

Human Rights Watch has spoken to two gay men who are in detention, along with a number of straight asylum seekers. All those interviewed said that gay men are having a particularly difficult time on Manus Island.

“Asylum seekers said gay men are either shunned or sexually abused or assaulted and used by the other men. The gay men said they had frequent nightmares, were extremely depressed, and isolated themselves, often not leaving their rooms,” the report says.

Human Rights Watch says some have returned to their own countries, while others have refused to move on to a transit centre, because they are concerned about their ability to live safely in PNG, where gay sex is illegal.

“One gay man who had received a positive refugee status determination refused to leave detention and reportedly destroyed his positive determination document and opted to return home,” the report says.

A gay asylum seeker told the organisation, “I have not come to stay in Manus, a country where it’s possible [for a gay man] to be jailed for 14 years. If I wanted to live like this I would have stayed in Iran and gone to prison, been released, and then sent to prison again.”

Another said, “Everyone leaves me. No one considers me a friend. Those few men who do are only with me because they want to take advantage of me sexually. They become my friends and after they use me they leave. And make fun of me. It’s very hard here.”

Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Law Centre say Australia’s experiment in offshore detention has been a disaster.

“Even the few people provided refugee status have been denied freedom of movement and the right to work. All should be allowed to move on with their lives in dignity and security,” says Human Rights Watch’s Australia Director Elaine Pearson.

Both groups say Australia should stop sending asylum seekers to PNG, and both governments should treat asylum seekers in accordance with international standards and implement a refugee resettlement policy.

They say Australia should also allow access for visitors and independent human rights monitors to the detention centre, and work with the PNG government to ensure that media and human rights groups are allowed access to its facilities.

The organisations say the PNG government should immediately amend its laws to decriminalise gay sex.

Read the full report here

New Zealand’s position

Here in New Zealand, Prime Minister John Key stated in 2013 that he had an agreement with the Australian government to send any ‘boat people’ who arrive on our shores to Manus Island.

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John Key

The Government brought in the Immigration Amendment Bill, allowing the mass detention of asylum seekers if they arrive in a group of 30 or more.

A UN report earlier this year found that the Australian immigration system breached the global convention on torture and inhuman treatment.

It led the our Green Party to call for a full and frank clarification from the Prime Minister on whether he still thinks it’s okay to ship off any asylum seekers who arrive on our shores to be ‘looked after’ by the Australians.

The Greens say we should be challenging the Australian Government to stop the offshore detention at a place MP Denise Roche described as “hell on Earth”.

She said Key “needs to tell his close mate Tony Abbott that New Zealanders are appalled by what’s happening on Manus Island, that the detention centre should be condemned and closed down, and that we don’t want any part of Australia’s despicable refugee policy.”


Jacqui Stanford - 19th July 2015

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