1 Sep 2017

Gay detainees on Manus fear for their future

2:17 pm on 1 September 2017

For gay men who fled persecution in their homelands to seek asylum in Australia, detention on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island offers a special kind of torture.

Protest at the Manus Island detention centre 28-8-17.

A file photo shows detainees at the Australian-run detention centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. Photo: supplied

Homosexuality is illegal in Papua New Guinea, and although the Manus detention centre comes under PNG law, incarceration has, effectively, shielded the detainees from prosecution.

But full integration is imminent with the Australian government aiming to close the centre by the end of October.

The 800 men detained on Manus will be able to move into the PNG community or return to their homelands once the centre is closed, Australia has said.

One Iranian detainee, who fled in fear of his life, said returning would result in certain death.

"In Iran, gay people have to be killed by hanging."

The man, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisal or further persecution, said three days after arriving in Australia authorities forced him onto a plane bound for PNG despite knowing he was gay.

"When I arrived on Manus Island, after a few days I had an interview with Australian authorities and they said to me, gay is illegal and PNG has 14 years in prison for gay people."

He has now spent four years imprisoned on Manus.

Amir Taghinia - a detainee advocating for gay men on the island - said there were about 20 in the prison camp.

Mr Taghinia said it was clear there were no options for these men on Manus, or in other parts of PNG, if Australia forced them to stay.

"Many of these guys have been very very badly traumatised. They have been assaulted, they have been insulted," he said.

"These people will face a very harsh life.

"They will be abused in Papua New Guinea. They will very likely get into trouble and they will eventually be persecuted by the Papua New Guinea government."

He said the harassment and abuse the gay men received in the centre had left them in shock.

"I have seen many of them not leaving their rooms. I have seen them locking up themselves in their rooms and I have seen them crying - some of them for days and days and days."

But he said the abuse would be worse if the men were forced into the PNG community.

Australian human rights lawyer George Newhouse shared the concern for the fate of the men if they were left in the country.

"The Australian government knows it's not safe for the asylum seekers to be outside of the compound and they are forcing them out," Mr Newhouse said.

"There have already been machete attacks and people, more people, may die and those deaths will be on the head of the Australian government."

Mr Newhouse said Australia had a duty of care to those detained on Manus, which Canberra was ignoring.

PNG's conservative Christian culture also poses a threat to the gay men, outside of its laws, and Mr Taghinia said some of them would rather die in the centre than be forced into the community.

For the man who fled Iran hoping to find safety in Australia, detention on Manus held more promise than life outside.

"Every time a local attacks us, I see death in front of my eyes," he said.

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