Vacuum: LGBT Communities And Refugees In New Zealand

October 1, 2015 in General

As part of this post, I’ve assembled a literature review bibliography on the concerns of LGBT refugees and asylum seekers. Most of the material came from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and the United States- but none from here. This isn’t good enough.

We are lucky enough to have a fair and equitable Immigration Act, which administers a best practice model of refugee and asylum seeker adjudication, which is inclusive of LGBT refugee needs, unlike those in Australia and the United Kingdom. Particularly unlike Australia, the New Zealand Ministry of Immigration and its refugee adjudication processes take New Zealand’s international human rights treaty obligations quite seriously, and seem amenable and inclusive when it comes to the specific needs of LGBT individuals fleeing antigay or transphobic regimes or paramilitary insurgencies, such as those in Iran or Iraq. In the case of Australia and the United Kingdom, there are vociferous LGBT civil society and legal representation groups determined to hold their governments to account, most particularly the United Kingdom Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group. The Blair and Cameron administrations seem to have both been on a steep learning curve but have responded well to  interventions made by UKLGIG and others, and have reformed their policies and procedures to deal with LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers accordingly. As for Australia, the rot set in during the Howard administration, was resumed under the ALP Gillard administration after Kevin Rudd commendably closed the detention centres during his first term of office, and carried on during the Abbott administration, specifically under its Immigration and Deportation Minister, Scott Morrison.

Some overseas literature refers to specific LGBT refugee situations, where as points of origin (Turkey, Palestine and Iran) or at destinations (Israel, Canada, the United Kingdom and United States). In terms of recipient countries and international agencies, the United Nations Human Rights Commission has published detailed policy recommendations. Apart from Australia’s reprehensible disregard for its international human rights obligations when it comes to refugees and asylum seekers, Hungary’s horrific detention and brutal policing of Syrian, Iraqi and Libyan asylum seekers in transit and Republican histrionics over border control and illegal immigration in the United States when it comes to Mexico and Latin America, immigration policy is not a flashpoint issue in most western societies.  In Canada, there is active resistance to Harper Conservative administration attempts to introduce anti-Muslim sectarianism into multicultural Canadian society, resisted by both the Liberal and New Democrat Opposition parties and the Canadian Supreme Court, citing relevant provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to safeguard the constitutional human rights and civil liberties of refugees and asylum seekers in that country.  Unfortunately, France, Australia and the United Kingdom all have anti-immigrant racist political parties, although thankfully Australia’s One Nation and the British National Party have declined in recent years. For a welcome change, New Zealand First is keeping quiet about the issue, having had its greedy fingers burnt during the Ahmed Zaoui debacle during the Clark administration. In New Zealand, the Key administration seems to recognise that in today’s multicultural society and multipolar world, anti-immigrant, anti-refugee and anti-asylum racist populism would be suicidal for our economy, given our growing East Asian trade relationships.

While central government pursues a welcome path of affirmative and inclusive refugee policy, the titular vacuum at the opening of this blog entry refers to New Zealand LGBT civil society. In past Politics and Religion columns, I have drawn attention to LGBT human rights international blackspots, and Iran and Iraq feature prominently as countries of origin where government and paramilitary repression respectively are rife, and accordingly appear as significant sources of refugees and asylum seekers, even within New Zealand’s own Ministry of Immigration statistics. Fortunately, New Zealand’s Mangere Refugee Resettlement Camp is nowhere near as dysfunctional, corrupt and abusive as Australia’s hellhole detention centres on Nauru, Christmas Island, Manus Island and Villawood in Victoria. Even so, are New Zealand’s Iranian lesbian and gay refugees safe if they come out in that context? Our community organisations need to step up, and actively participate in refugee and asylum seeker resettlement. Compared to other jurisdictions, New Zealand’s LGBT communities seem sluggish, apathetic and insular when it comes to these issues. That has to change.


Oreet Ashley et al: Staying: Dream, Bin, Soft Stud and other Stories: London: Artangel/UKLGIG: 2010.

Eithne Lumbeid: Queer Migrations: Sexuality, US Citizenship and Border Crossing: Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press: 2005.

Michael Keegan: Nowhere to Run: Gay Palestinian Asylum Seekers in Israel: Tel Aviv University Press: 2008.

Heather McClure et al: Preparing Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Asylum Seeker Claims: A Handbook for Advocates and Asylum Seekers: Chicago: Heartland Alliance: 2000.

David Munday: Real Queer? Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Refugees in the Canadian Refugee Apparatus: New York: Rowman and Littlefield: 2015.

Office of the United Nations Human Rights Commission: Working with LGBTI Persons in Forced Displacement: Geneva: 2011.

Olivia Noto: Nothing for Them: Understanding the Support Needs of LGBT Young People from Refugee and Newly Arrived Backgrounds: Melbourne: La Trobe University: 2014.

L.Gray Milliken: Failing the Grade: Home Office Initial Decisions Based on Lesbian and Gay Claims for Asylum: London: UKLGIG: 2010.

Physicians for Human Rights: Examining Asylum Seekers: A Clinicians Guide to Physiological and Psychological Evaluation for Torture and Ill-Treatment: Cambridge: Physicians for Human Rights: 2002.

T.Spijkeboer: Fleeing Homophobia: Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Asylum: Abingdon: Routledge: 2013.

Rainbow Response: A Practical Guide to Resettling LGBT Refugees and Asylees: Chicago: Heartland Alliance: 2012.