Gay refugees on Nauru 'prisoners' in their home as Australia prepares to celebrate Mardi Gras
Environment and immigration correspondentEXCLUSIVE
Injuries the men say they have suffered on the island nation. Photo: Supplied
Two gay refugees who fell in love at the Nauru detention camp say they are virtually prisoners in their home: holed up in fear for their lives after being bashed and verbally abused in a nation where homosexuality is illegal
As Sydney prepares for Saturday night's Mardi Gras parade - an event that showcases Australia as a global model of acceptance of gay and lesbian people - the federal government is refusing to rescue the two young Iranian men it sent to a country where they could be jailed for their sexual orientation, according to lawyers.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has so far refused to help the refugees, who say they have been repeatedly beaten, had rocks thrown at them and been called "human rubbish". His department says refugees at Nauru can accept resettlement in Cambodia.
A digitally altered photo of two gay Iranian refugees, Nima and Ashkan, who say they are being persecuted at Nauru, where homosexuality is illegal. Photo: supplied
The Human Rights Law Centre and international LGBT rights group All Out have begun a petition calling on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to urgently intervene and bring the men to Australia. The refugees, known by the pseudonyms Nima and Ashkan, live in the Nauruan community. They say they spend their lives confined in a tiny unit with the doors locked and window shades drawn - leaving just once a week to buy food, escorted by a case manager.
"We would love to live in a country where we can love each other without any barriers … and Australia is such a country," Nima told Fairfax Media through an interpreter, speaking on the phone from Nauru.
"Most of the time we just lie on the bed because we can't do anything … we are mentally suffering. We can't do anything else."
Further injuries the men have endured. Photo: Supplied
The men, both in their 20s, fled Iran separately after suffering persecution and headed to Australia. They met after being transferred to the Nauru detention camp and their relationship began about two years ago.
They claim to have suffered harassment from other detainees while inside the centre. After being found to be refugees and moved into the Nauruan community, they say the attacks escalated.
In one alleged assault one evening in July last year, the men were walking home carrying their shopping when their path was blocked by three local men.
The refugees allege the men asked if they were partners, which they confirmed, before the men said "f*ck you" and beat them with sticks, forcing them to the ground.
The refugees said they sustained bruising and were taken to hospital. Ashkan allegedly suffered concussion and was kept overnight
In an attack the following month, Nima was allegedly punched in the head by two men on motorbikes, who yelled "you f***ing gays".
A spokesman for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection said it was "aware of an incident involving the individuals" and law enforcement in Nauru was the responsibility of the island's government.
The spokesman said concerns about the treatment of gay people are considered prior to a detainee's transfer to that country.
"It is not Australian government policy for illegal maritime arrivals to settle in Australia. Refugees in Nauru may apply to Cambodia for permanent settlement," he said.
Very few refugees have taken up the Cambodia resettlement option. Critics say that nation has been accused of human rights abuses, has high poverty levels and no refugee resettlement experience.
The Nauruan government had not provided comment at the time of writing.
HRLC's director of advocacy and litigation, Anna Brown, said under Nauruan law Ashkan and Nima risk being jailed for up to 14 years.
"This situation and similar ones on Manus [Island] are just so wrong ... the Australian government knowingly and deliberately allows gay men to be warehoused on tiny islands where they face assaults, prejudice and extremely harsh criminal penalties," she said.
The HRLC says former human rights commissioner Tim Wilson was notified of the case and raised it with the government. Mr Wilson, who recently resigned the post to launch a bid for Parliament with the Liberal Party, would not comment.
A spokesman for Connect Settlement Services, which assists refugees at Nauru, said it was aware of assault allegations "made by clients in June and July last year and we have provided assistance to those clients".