Update 6 February 2013: So, this correspondence was never answered by Minister Bowen, before he left the portfolio in last week’s reshuffle. I don’t know for sure what that is a reflection of, but can only assume that not answering in 6 months means he was not open to scrutiny on the issue of LGBTI asylum-seekers and in particular their treatment on Nauru, Manus Island and, eventually, in Malaysia.
With the appointment of Brendan O’Connor as the new Minister for Immigration I have resent the original correspondence, including the questions below, to Minister O’Connor. If I have not received a response within 4-6 weeks it will be time to pursue this again but in a more public format. Thanks for reading.
Original Post: Like many Australians, I was appalled by the recent decision of the Australian Government to accept the recommendations of the Houston Report and send asylum seekers to Nauru and Papua New Guinea for indefinite periods (and by the Government’s refusal to rule out sending asylum seekers to Malaysia in the longer-term). I am also appalled by the potential consequence of this decision for LGBTI asylum seekers, and have written the following letter to Australia’s Immigration Minister, Mr Chris Bowen. I will of course write a similar letter to the Opposition’s Immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison, given the Liberal and National Parties supported the move to ‘offshore processing’. As always I will post any response received.
Dear Minister Bowen,
I am writing to express my disagreement and disappointment with the Australian Government’s decision to implement the offshore processing of asylum seekers.
I think that this decision is a failure of our human rights obligations under international law, not to mention a failure of our moral obligations as human beings to open our arms and our hearts to people fleeing persecution.
Given that your government has now committed to process asylum seekers in Nauru, Papua New Guinea and, in the medium term, through ‘regional processing’ in Malaysia, I am also writing with several questions which I would like answered about one particular issue – the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) asylum seekers.
- Do you acknowledge that there are many countries around the world where being LGBTI is illegal and/or subject to government harassment and intimidation?
- Do you accept that LGBTI people have the right to seek asylum on the grounds of persecution of their sexual orientation or gender identity?
- Do you agree that this means LGBTI asylum seekers should be accepted by countries like Australia, rather than be returned to their originating country and asked to ‘return to the closet’ or conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity? (Disturbingly, there have been some cases within Australia suggesting that LGBTI asylum seekers can be returned in such circumstances, something which is not required of people fleeing persecution on political, religious or other grounds. I am simply seeking your confirmation that you do not support this special and discriminatory imposition on LGBTI asylum seekers).
- Do you support the right of LGBTI people to seek sexual companionship, form loving relationships and found families no matter where they are in the world? Are these fundamental rights which should be protected?
- Do you agree that asylum seekers who are fleeing persecution on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity (or indeed who are fleeing on other grounds but are LGBTI), should not be sent to any country which criminalises or discriminates against LGBTI people?
- Are you aware that homosexuality is currently illegal in all three countries to which the Australian Government currently intends to send asylum seekers?
- Will the laws of these jurisdictions apply to asylum seekers being detained by the Australian government (or, in the case of Malaysia, to asylum seekers who may be living in the community)?
- What representations have the Australian Government made to, and what agreements have the Australian Government sought with, the governments of Nauru, Papua New Guinea and Malaysia, on the specific treatment of LGBTI asylum seekers?
- Do you agree that, if LGBTI asylum seekers are unable to seek sexual companionship, form loving relationships or found families in Nauru, Papua New Guinea and Malaysia, that this is a fundamental breach of their human rights?
- As a fellow human being, are you comfortable that the Australian Government will reject someone who is fleeing the death penalty in another country for simply being who they are and instead send them to a third country where it remains a criminal offence to be who they are?
I have copied this letter to the Prime Minister, Foreign Affairs Minister and Attorney-General given these issues cut across several portfolios. I look forward to your prompt response.
As an illustration of why there remain so many LGBTI refugees, the following map indicates the countries in which homosexuality remains illegal – while there has been significant progress over the past 50 years, there remains far too many countries shaded black, including of course Papua New Guinea:
3 thoughts on “Letter to Chris Bowen/Brendan O’Connor on LGBTI Asylum Seekers”
So, almost 8 weeks since I sent this letter to the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, I am still awaiting a reply. Who knows, maybe they are genuinely trying to answer the questions (!) – or maybe they don’t have answers to them and are still drafting the best non-answer they can come up with.
Speaking of which, I have at least received a response from my copy of this letter which I sent to the Attorney-General. I received the below letter not from the Attorney-General or even her office but from an Assistant Secretary in the AGD (I have not included their name as it is irrelevant; the message is from the Government not them personally).
As you shall see it is full of non-answers. And I am still trying to work out whether the inclusion of the phrase “is not sent to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened” is a nudge, nudge, wink, wink way of saying they will not be proscuted in Nauru, PNG or Malasyia. After all, I would have thought being imprisoned for homosexuality would be a significant curtailing of their freedom. Anyway, all thoughts or intepretations on the subject welcomed.
Here’s the letter (and here’s hoping Bowen can fill in the gaps):
Dear Mr. Lawrie
I refer to your email of 23 September 2012 to the Attorney-General, the Hon Nicola Roxon MP, in which you raise concerns over regional processing arrangements and in particular, the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) asylum seekers.
The Australian Government believes that all people are entitled to respect, dignity and the protection of the law regardless of their sexual orientation, sex or gender identity. The Government has committed to including protections against discrimination on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation and sex and/or gender identity as part of its project to consolidate federal anti-discrimination laws into a single Act. Draft legislation for the consolidated anti-discrimination law is expected to be released for public consultation shortly. I encourage you to be involved in that public consultation.
As a party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, Australia has committed to ensure that any person who, owing to a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of membership of a ‘particular social group’, is outside their country of nationality and is unable or unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country, is not sent to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened.
Consistent with this core international obligation, the Government is committed to implementing regional processing arrangements because it believes in the need for a sustainable regional solution to irregular movements of people. Australian immigration policy is a matter for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. As I understand you have written to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, the Hon Chris Bowen MP regarding this issue, I will allow his Department to respond to those issues.
Thank you for bringing your concerns to the attention of the Government.
As of 29 December 2012, I have still not received any response from Minister Bowen. I am resending my original correspondence and asking that a reply be provided by the end of January. Obviously, this issue is becoming more important each and every day, as the Commonwealth ‘exports’ more asylum-seekers to Nauru and Manus Island, and as each and every day spent in off-shore detention centres causes irreparable harm to all asylum-seekers, both LGBTI and non-LGBTI.
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