An online forum organised by the Refugee Action Collective (Victoria) on October 26 heard from transgender activists and others about Australia’s harsh treatment of LGBTI refugees.
Transgender woman Phina Hartson spoke about the problems faced by her partner, who is in detention after fleeing persecution from a Middle Eastern country. He is unable to be open about his sexuality for fear other detainees and staff.
Hartson said that decision-makers who determine refugee claims are often prejudiced with a “heterosexist bias”.
Alison Battisson, a lawyer who has represented many LGBTI refugees, said that interviewers often have “a stereotyped view of how queers behave”. Those who do not conform to the stereotype are not believed.
Battisson said that queer people, because of their fear of discussing their sexuality with people in authority, often give other reasons for why they fled their home country.
When they later make a claim for refugee status on the basis of persecution for their sexuality, the discrepancy is used against them. For these reasons, she said, it is difficult for LGBTI people to win refugee status.
Battisson did have some success acting for two gay men from Saudi Arabia, one of whom spoke to the forum.
Sultan (a pseudonym) and his partner arrived by plane on visitor's visas, but were stopped by Border Force at the airport. When they said they wanted to apply for refugee status, they were taken to Villawood Detention Centre and held for two and a half months.
Because Sultan was a journalist and had some links with international media, Battisson was able to gain some media attention for his case. The couple were released on bridging visas, which allowed them to stay temporarily. But they have not yet been given permanent visas.
Sultan said that, in Villawood, refugees are housed with criminals. There is a lot of violence.
Battisson said that the government does not care, because it adds to the pressure on refugees to return to the countries from which they have fled.