Amir, A Gay Man Detained On Manus Island, Faces An Impossible Choice
Amir can return to Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by execution, or stay in Papua New Guinea, where it carries a sentence of up to 14 years in prison.
As Australia and Papua New Guinea prepare to close the offshore detention camp on Manus Island in October, many gay asylum seekers and refugees face an intolerable choice.
25-year-old Amir has been detained on Manus Island since November 2013. He fled Iran after he was caught having sex with his boyfriend.
Amir abandoned his claim for protection in Papua New Guinea after the 2014 riots in the detention centre.
"After the riots, I was terrified," he wrote in a prepared statement of facts viewed by BuzzFeed News. "I decided I could not proceed with my claim for protection in PNG because I also feared violence and persecution here for my sexuality."
Amir asked that his claim not be assessed, and as a result, was assessed as not being a refugee. Now, he is faced with a choice: voluntarily return to Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by execution, or launch a last ditch attempt to stay in Papua New Guinea, where gay sex is a crime.
"I request that I be given another chance to complete a Refugee Determination instead, because as I have explained, I have been mentally and physically very unwell," Amir wrote.
"In the meantime, I will do my Deportation Risk Assessment because I have no other choice and I know I would be tortured or killed if deported to Iran."
The Manus Island detention centre is scheduled to close on October 31, when Australia will withdraw all services and the centre will be handed back to the PNG Defence Force.
Men like Amir who have not been accepted as refugees have been told they must return to their home countries before August 31. After that date, Australia will turn over responsibility to the PNG government to deport them.
Some men found to be refugees may be resettled in the US under the deal struck between Malcolm Turnbull and Barack Obama, but those denied entry under the strict US vetting procedures also have limited options: go back home, stay in PNG, or, if they have the right, resettle in a third country.
Australian LGBTI rights group Just Equal is circulating a petition asking the government to ensure gay and bisexual men can settle in a safe country where homosexuality is not criminalised in any way – such as New Zealand or Canada.
Spokesperson Rodney Croome said gay asylum seekers should be taken to Australia or another safe country "as a matter of urgency".
"It is profoundly cruel to give them two options that both involve the potential of being gaoled or worse just because of who they are," he said.
In a senate committee hearing on Monday, department of immigration secretary Michael Pezzullo acknowledged that some of the men held at Manus Island are from countries where homosexuality is punishable by execution.
[Greens senator] Nick McKim: Given that there are Iranian men who will be executed if they go back to Iran, clearly the Australian government would not suggest that they do that, would they?
Pezzullo: No. We do not want anyone to be executed.
McKim also put Amir's situation – withdrawing a claim in PNG and being assessed as not being a refugee – to Pezzullo.
McKim: As you would know, it is a crime in Papua New Guinea to engage in consenting homosexual sex and it carries a term of imprisonment of up to 14 years. So it is quite understandable that someone who wants to claim asylum on the basis of their sexuality and persecution in their home country would not be prepared to make such a claim to the PNG government.
Pezzullo: I get the import of your question. How the determination is arrived at is a matter under PNG law. Whether it involves an application or, as you surmise, a determination being made absent an application, is purely and simply a matter to be dealt with under PNG law.
Greens spokesperson for LGBTI issues Janet Rice said gay and bisexual men were "simply not safe" in Papua New Guinea.
"These men sought asylum in Australia to be free from persecution," she said. "This government must not subject them to live in any country where their freedom and lives are at risk," she said.