Gay asylum seekers in PNG hid sexuality in fear of harsh anti-gay laws, estimates hearing told

Asylum seekers who have fled persecution based on their sexuality now fear their claims will be rejected under Papua New Guinea's harsh homosexuality laws.

A Senate hearing was told many detainees have adjusted claims from persecution on the basis of their sexuality to a political or religious persecution claim to gain a better chance of gaining asylum.

PNG's anti-gay laws carry a 14-year jail sentence if two men are found engaging in same sex acts, according to an Amnesty International report.

Labor senator Lisa Singh asked the secretary of Immigration and Border Control, Martin Bowles, whether he was aware of gay asylum seekers fearing persecution due to their sexuality.

Mr Bowles said that the processing of claims fell under PNG law and it was an issue of their sovereignty. The PNG government will also be assessing all claims, he said.

''Just to clarify though, there is no one on the island seeking asylum because of sexual orientation,'' Mr Bowles said.

''There may be people with different sexual orientations, but they are not there for that reason.''

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said it was impossible for Mr Bowles to make this claim because none of the 1340 claims had yet been processed since the centre reopened in 2012.

''You can't say people are not claiming that, unless their claims are being assessed,'' she said.

Amnesty International refugee spokesman Graeme McGregor said same-sex sexual activity was forbidden at the detention centre.

''We interviewed several gay asylum seekers at the detention centre who were afraid they would be identified as gay and turned into the PNG police. Many of the gay men became distressed, anxious, and could not sleep,'' he said.

When Mr Bowles was asked whether he knew it was forbidden to distribute condoms to detainees, he replied he was ''unaware''.

The report found asylum seekers who claim asylum on the basis of sexual orientation are at risk in Papua New Guinea.

''The mere existence of these laws could put those who are claiming asylum on the basis of their sexual orientation at risk if they are to be resettled in Papua New Guinea.

''It also creates concerns for those within the centre, if they are accused of engaging in sexual activity,'' the report said.

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