In May 2016, the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee released an Interim Report on their inquiry into the Conditions and treatment of asylum seekers and refugees at the regional processing centres (RPCs) in the Republic of Nauru and Papua New Guinea (the Report).
The Report noted that the committee received submissions focused on the situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people held in the RPCs. The NSW GLRL (GLRL) contributed a submission outlining some of the issues faced by LGBTI refugees in Australian offshore processing facilities and the ways in which those issues should be addressed as the treatment of LGBTI asylum seekers continues to pose a serious concern.
The Report noted: “The NSW Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby highlighted that ‘LGBTI refugees are some of the most vulnerable individuals held in detention around the world’, and submitted that they were subject to ‘severe discrimination’ in the RPCs and their host countries, as well as in refugee status determination processes.”
The Report noted that the GLRL also “offered a number of recommendations for specific training and education of relevant officials and service providers, as well as improved services, to better address the specific needs and vulnerabilities of LGBTI asylum seekers.” These included recommendations for mandatory Guidelines about the treatment of LGBTI refugees in regional processing centres that address issues of LGBTI identification and intersectional identities and the unique situation of LGBTI refugees (who may be fleeing not only criminal persecution, but also social stigmatisation and persecution); training to increase understanding of diverse sexual orientation and gender diversity; and compulsory responses to violence against members of LGBTI communities in RPCs.
Our submission also recommended that LGBTI asylum seekers should not be repatriated to their country of origin if it would in any way compromise their safety or wellbeing. Further, LGBTI refugees should not be resettled in countries where homosexual behaviour is criminalised, such as Papua New Guinea.
The GLRL drew attention to the increasing number of refugees seeking protection in Australia based on their LGBTI status. At least 77 countries worldwide criminalise homosexual behaviour and many continue to introduce harsher penalties.
Although homosexuality has been decriminalised in Nauru since our submission, the GLRL maintains that the safety and wellbeing of LGBTI asylum seekers in that RPC requires the implementation of our recommendations.
Papua New Guinea continues to criminalise homosexuality. However, just before the committee released the Interim report, on 26 April 2016, the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea held that the detention of the asylum seekers at the Manus RPC was ‘unconstitutional and illegal’, and ordered that the Australian and PNG governments ‘forthwith take all steps necessary to cease and prevent’ their continued detention there. We encourage the Australian and Papua New Guinean governments to resolve this in a manner which prioritises the safety and wellbeing of LGBTI asylum seekers on Manus Island.
The committee recommended that, if it were unable to complete its inquiry prior to the federal election in July, the Senate refer the inquiry to the next Parliament.