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Saturday 10 October 2015

Comment: Only 1500?

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 10th September 2015

With a growing humanitarian crisis in Europe from a wave of Syrian and North African asylum seekers, why is New Zealand's response so ridiculously inadequate?

In 2014, we only took in 750 refugees and asylum seekers. Isn't it time we stopped our narrow perceptions about foreign policy? There are other things than free trade alone.

In the case of the refugee and asylum seeker wave currently crossing Europe, these desperate people are fleeing a repressive callous government and an equally brutal and murderous ISIS insurgent movement. There are other refugee and asylum flows, from societies like Uganda and Nigeria, that consist predominantly of LGBT individuals seeking a better life outside such repressive, dysfunctional and undemocratic regimes. Due to proximity, most try to make it to Western Europe. In the case of non-LGBT refugees, from Iraq, Afghanistan and South West Asia, the destination is often Australia. While Greece and Italy have unexpectedly humane policies when it comes to refugees and asylum seekers, given that they are the first ports of call for those crossing the Mediterranean in ramshackle boats that often capsize en route, the same cannot be said for other nations across Western Europe. Hungary has a repressive Fidesz anti-immigrant and social government, so it is no coincidence that Budapest has seen significant conflict. Commendably, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has sternly denounced anti-immigrant racists and neofascists within Germany and promised that any organised racist violence will not be tolerated at all. As for France, the French National Front is a significant party within French national politics still, despite its anti-Semitism, Islamophobic sectarianism and anti-immigrant racism and the current schism between Jean-Marie and Marine Le Pen, current National Front leader. While the neofascist British National Party has thankfully declined in influence, the United Kingdom has problems with its refugee and asylum policies. And shamefully, so does Australia.

However, it took a single death to galvanise public opinion around toward compassion and inclusion. Three year old Syrian Kurdish child Aylan Kurdi was drowned as his family tried to escape the horrific turmoil in his homeland. The response has been heartening- Austria has welcomed the refugees en route to Germany and offered them food, safe shelter and further transport. The Cameron, Abbott and Key administrations have all agreed to increase their humanitarian intake due to the scale of the humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq, albeit not by much in the case of New Zealand. The New Zealand Medical Association, Labour and Green Opposition parties, Anglican and Catholic church leadership, New Zealand metropolitan centre mayors, and even the Young Nationals, urged the government to do much more than it is. However, it still seems as if the government is only prepared to take a thousand or so refugees and no more.

Australia doesn't receive nearly as much condemnation and opposition to its draconian denial of human rights and international treaty agreements, such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Refugees as it deserves from New Zealand. Because of our distance from global maritime trade and transit routes, and our anemic economy, New Zealand is not a core destination for asylum seekers at present and agitation against their prospective arrival is ignored. That may not last forever, as there is the matter of climate change to consider. If the world's average temperature rises by three percent, as some scientists are now arguing, the Amazon rain forest may be aflame and Australia's agricultural infrastructure may completely break down, and New Zealand will become a more attractive destination for refugees and asylum seekers. Moreover, the countries of origin will change- storms will ravage Indonesia, New Guinea, Malaysia, Thailand, Burma and Bangladesh and cause hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of fatalities. Under those circumstances, New Zealand may become a more attractive target for refugees and asylum seekers.

What proportion of those refugees and asylum seekers will be LGBT individuals? Much depends on the reasons that such individuals might flee their homelands. In the case of Syria and Iraq, there is ongoing active persecution from both Syria's Assad dictatorship and the ISIS Islamist guerilla insurgency. In the case of Damascus, LGBT individuals are imprisoned, tortured and coerced into acting as regime informants, while ISIS has repeatedly executed gay men through throwing them off buildings. In the case of Uganda, Nigeria and Russia, the United Kingdom is closer, while in the case of Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, the preferred destination is Australia. Once there, refugees and asylum seekers face an uncertain destiny.

In January 2015, I reported on a recent DNA article on the ordeal that gay male refugees and asylum seekers face on Manus Island. The latter is a dependency of Papua New Guinea, where gay men can still be imprisoned for fourteen years. Australia is in breach of several agreements related to the human rights of refugees and asylum seekers, such as the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Cultural, Social and Economic Rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Convention Against Torture. Specifically, Clause 33 within Australia's Migration Act 1958 is in contravention of the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which specifically forbids signatories from "refoulement." This term refers to returning refugees and asylum seekers to countries of origin if it is certain that they will face torture, unjust imprisonment, religious persecution, arbitrary killing, rape or other violations of universal human rights. It also insists that refugees and asylum seekers are housed in humane conditions. According to DNA's Mason Green, that certainly is not the case when it comes to Papua New Guinea's Manus Island. Physical assault, sexual violence and rape are rife on Manus Island. Moreover, Papua New Guinea's Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary is thoroughly corrupt, routinely violates the human rights of prisoners and has been involved in sexual abuse of women and children itself. As for the current Papua New Guinea government, Transparency International has rated it an abyssmal 150/176 insofar as corruption and the absence of transparency and accountability goes, yet the Abbott administration still subsidises the Manus Island facility and contributes foreign aid to the Papua New Guinea government. It is high time New Zealand held its nearest neighbour to account over its grotesque record on refugees and asylum seekers. Thus far, Green MP Denise Roche is the only New Zealand MP to do so. No such criticism has come from the Key administration.

Insofar as the United Kingdom goes, the Cameron administration is to be partly commended for ceasing to utilise the ludicrous grounds that the defunct UK Border Agency used to abruptly deport refugees and asylum seekers back to their countries of origin, no matter if they faced homophobic or transphobic torture, violence or homicide upon arrival back in countries like Nigeria or Uganda. LGBT asylum seekers are often engaged in enforced secrecy and concealment of their sexual or gender identities in their countries of origin, they distrust government agencies from bitter personal experience of those within their countries of origin, and because of the need for secrecy, there is little documentary evidence of their sexual orientation or gender identity available. In September 2015, Tom Ling reviewed the burgeoning crisis and government agency response. Ling slammed the British tabloid gutter press for its outright fabrications and falsehoods, as the right-wing Daily Mail had claimed that refugees and asylum seekers were being advised to 'feign' homosexuality to expedite their applications for sanctuary. The truth is far from this, as one might guess. While the Border Agency was justifiably dismantled for its abuse of due process, the Detention Fast Track alternative is no better, and allows refugees and asylum seekers to be held in crowded and violent facilities that lack privacy, as well as adequate duration when it comes to objective evaluation and scrutiny of asylum claims. The United Kingdom Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group has assisted many LGBT refugees and asylum seekers to negotiate the system, and they have the support of current UK Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration John Vine, as well as Cameron administration Immigration Minister James Brokenshire. To his credit, Brokenshire has acknowledged the serious flaws within the Detention Fast Track system and closed it down. Whether or not a modified version will be re-introduced is still uncertain.

On the face of it, New Zealand seems more merciful and compassionate. As one can see from the attached case of an Iranian gay man who was granted the right to appeal against a deportation sentence, New Zealand's refugee and asylum assessment agencies are diligent and thorough in recognising their human rights obligations and include LGBTI rights within that ambit of analysis, which has been the case since 1993, as an earlier case notes (although the Immigration and Protection Tribunal has now replaced the earlier Refugee Status Appeals Authority). Many of our own LGBT asylum seekers from Columbia, Burundi, Pakistan, Egypt, Uganda and the Maldives have praised the relative accessibility and humanity of New Zealand's refugee and asylum system, but Amnesty International is rightly critical of the limited intake of refugees and the apparently arbitrary limit of 750, although given the scale of the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis, this has now expanded to 1500, albeit over a two year span.


"Mayors want rise in refugee quota" Radio New Zealand: 06.09.2015: want-rise-in-refugee-quota

"Government bows to refugee pressure" Otago Daily Times: 07.09.2015: -bows-refugee-pressure

"NZMA calls for more refugee support" Scoop: 05.09.2015:

"Church leaders call for increase in refugee numbers" New Zealand Herald: 05.09.2015: bjectid=11508808

New Zealand Refugee Status Appeals Authority: Refugee Appeal No 74665/03: nz/74665-03.html

New Zealand Refugee Status Appeals Authority: Refugee Appeal No 1312/93: /text/docs/1312-93.htm
Mason Green: "Australian Horror Story: Asylum" DNA 180 (December 2014): 66-71

Wikipedia/Corruption in Papua Guinea:

"Making Their Own Rules: Police Beatings, Rape and Torture of Children in Papua New Guinea" Human Rights Watch (2005):

David Miah: "A Gay Asylum Seeker in Britain" Gay Times 418 (May 2013): 106-111.

Tom Ling: "LGBT Asylum Seekers" Gay Times 446 (September 2015): 30-31.

UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group:

Craig Young - 10th September 2015

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