Two gay journalists fled to Australia from Saudi Arabia in October after authorities interrogated and threatened to ‘out’ them. This would have put their lives at risk, given that homosexuality is illegal in Saudi Arabia and punishable by death.
The journalists said that the Saudi government suspected one of them of leaking negative material to foreign media. They both strongly deny leaking any information, but their hidden relationship was nevertheless used to intimidate them.
The two arrived by plane in Australia on valid tourist visas. They declared their intent to seek asylum but were handcuffed, detained and driven to an immigration detention centre where they were locked up indefinitely. In the end they remained there for two months.
They were both released in December after many weeks of living hell. Both men were threatened with violence by other detainees while locked up, and say that guards intimidated them. They were forced to sleep in stairwells because the rooms were not safe.
If their initial claim for asylum had been denied the couple would have risked being deported back to Saudi Arabia, separated, arrested, jailed and possibly faced capital punishment for being gay. All up, six countries across the world impose the death penalty for being gay – Iran, Northern Nigeria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Saudi Arabia.
While the major parties like to gloat that Australia now has marriage equality, it’s clear that discrimination against LGBTIQ people still exists. LGBTIQ people that arrive in Australia fleeing persecution in these six countries face the possibility – like all refugees – of mandatory detention and offshore processing. This happens despite the fact that it is not illegal to seek asylum in Australia.
The two Saudi journalists were somewhat lucky. Because of their profession they were able to draw in a significant amount of support from other journalists and some news outlets. They have now been given temporary bridging visas while the government decides their fate.
This however could take years, during which they will be unable to access many of the services that the rest of us take for granted. They will most likely also have to apply for a special right to work.
This case highlights the cruel reality of Australia’s refugee policies. The men came to Australia to seek safety but were met with hostility and a two-month jail term. Detention was something that they didn’t even have to endure in Saudi Arabia.
Currently, thousands of people are held in Australian immigration detention centres. It is unacceptable that these people are locked up, sometimes indefinitely, for seeking safety. Both of the major parties support this inhumane approach and have been responsible for scapegoating refugees for decades.
We can’t wait for the Liberals and Labor to see the light. We need to force change onto the agenda now via a mass movement that fights for the rights of asylum seekers, as well as all LGBTIQ people.
We need to demand an end to mandatory and indefinite detention, and for asylum seekers to have their claims processed in the community. While this is happening, they need to be able to access services and have the right to work. Not only would this be more humane but it would save billions of dollars a year that could be spent on extra services for everyone.
When we look at the reasons why people are forced to flee their homes and seek asylum, we see that wars, economic crisis, climate change and discrimination are the main drivers. These things are not natural but are produced by a system that put profits before all else.
While fighting for the rights of refugees, and for them to be treated humanely, we also need to fight for a system that prioritises people’s needs rather than profits.
Refugees are often vilified by the media and blamed for many of society’s problems, but in reality, most of us have more in common with a refugee than we do with a billionaire that got rich exploiting people and the planet.
Rather than blaming refugees we need to put the blame for our problems where it belongs – on the capitalist system and those who profiteer at our expense.
By Kai Perry