Phineas is in love with a man in immigration detention. She'll go with him if he's deported

For several years, Phineas and Abdul have built a relationship while he's been in an Australian immigration detention facility. If he is returned to his homeland - where he faces danger due to his sexuality - she says she'll join him.

Phineas Hartson

Phineas met Abdul online in 2015. Source: SBS News/Supplied

The Australian partner of an Iraqi man in immigration detention says she will return with him to his home country if he is deported, to face possible death together.

Phineas Hartson, a Sydney lawyer, met Abdul (not his real name) online in 2015. She is a transgender woman, he identifies as a gay man and fled Iraq nine years ago after being attacked over his sexuality. 

“Neither of us were looking for love,” Phineas says. 

“We met through a video chat app when [Abdul] sent me a random message on my phone saying hello.”

For the six years that followed, their friendship blossomed into a romantic relationship. But they have never met in person, and not being able to live life freely with his partner in Australia has been tough, Abdul says. 

Phineas Hartson is a lawyer based in Sydney.
Source: Supplied/Phineas Hartson

"It's very bad, you can’t imagine how the life is here, it is very hard.”

“Nine years in a detention centre for not doing anything wrong. Why? Because you came to protect yourself in Australia and they put you in detention with no reason.

“How can you feel? It's very bad."

Fearing for his life 

Abdul says he fled Iraq in 2012 after being caught having sexual relations with a man whose brother was in the local armed militia. 

Five people set upon him, beating and stabbing him.

After being outed by the militia and shamed in his community, he believed it would only be a matter of time before he was killed. 

Abdul fled to Indonesia and then headed to Australia on a people-smuggling boat. The boat was intercepted by Australian authorities and he was taken to Christmas Island.

After some time at other offshore facilities, he was brought to an immigration detention centre on the Australian mainland.

Abdul has been in detention since 2012.
Source: iStockphoto

Abdul's life in detention has taken a toll on him. He has been on a hunger strike and made a self-harm attempt in protest over his detention.  

“Nobody cared,” he says. 

Phineas is worried that due to Abdul's worsening mental health, he may sign documents that will allow for his legal deportation back to Iraq.

Should he do that, she says she will go with him, despite the danger they may face. 

“I would follow my partner, so I have no issue packing my bags and following the man that I love.

“We're both facing dangers. Being gay or even assumed gay in Iraq at the moment is life-threatening; it's a dangerous thing."

I have no issue packing my bags and following the man that I love. 

- Phineas Hartson

According to Human Dignity Trust, the Iraqi Penal Code "does not expressly prohibit consensual same-sex sexual relations however there have been numerous reports in recent years of non-state actors ordering the executions of men and women for same-sex intimacy". 

The Department of Home Affairs does not comment on individual cases. 

A spokesperson told SBS News in a statement: “Australia does not return individuals to situations where they face persecution or a real risk of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, arbitrary deprivation of life or the application of the death penalty”.

How do you prove your sexuality?

Abdul’s lawyer Alison Battisson says his case is "particularly egregious" and he has been a victim of delays by the Department of Home Affairs. 

"He was brought back to Australia to make room for the other people who were being sent offshore to be processed. There was then a period of time in which it looks like the government weren't quite sure what to do with him, but he sat in detention for three-and-a-half to four years without being invited to apply for a visa."

According to Australia's immigration policy, those who arrive by boat must be invited to apply for a protection visa to receive refugee status.

When Abdul was eventually invited to apply, his protection claim was denied.

Lawyer Alison Battisson of Human Rights For All.
Source: Human Rights For All

Ms Battisson believes Abdul has not been invited to reapply for a protection visa because the department does not believe he is a gay man. 

Abdul did not mention his sexuality when he first arrived in immigration detention.

“His claim was based around being homosexual - and effectively queer and bisexual - which is a very difficult thing to announce when you get off a boat arriving in Australia,” Ms Battisson says. 

“Then when you're stuck in a detention centre in Australia and offshore, it's completely unreasonable to expect that someone would be comfortable to disclose that status, and because of that, his protection application was rejected and he has been languishing in detention."

Ms Battisson says her client has had security clearance by ASIO and the Department of Home Affairs is aware of his case. 

The department spokesperson said all protection claims are assessed individually on their own merit, taking into consideration the particular circumstances of the applicant and conditions in the country from which they seek protection.

Not being invited to reapply for a protection visa means settling in a third country - i.e., not Iraq or Australia - is also not an option. 

Joe Ball is the CEO of Switchboard Victoria, a not for profit organisation that provides support for LGBTIQA+ communities.

Its members visit LGBTIQA+ detainees in immigration detention.

"The stories that we hear about people are that they are put through far too many hoops about proving their sexuality. 

"[The stories] are quite draconian; of people being asked about the ins and outs of their relationship and that the approach of immigration officials is one of suspicion rather than a position of clarification." 

Ms Battisson has no doubts Abdul's claims about his sexuality and his relationship are true. Neither has his partner. 

“It reached personal levels, personal in regard to sexuality and things. We have exchanged certain things that only a gay man would express with his partner," Phineas says. 

“I know that he is legitimate with his sexuality and his gender. I would know, being queer and LGBTIQ for all of my life, if a person is a phony or not."

Abdul's trust in his partner is of equal devotion.

"I feel she loves me,” he says. “She says, 'if you're going to any other country, I will go with you.'”

LGBTIQ+ Australians seeking support with mental health can contact QLife on 1800 184 527 or visit qlife.org.au. ReachOut.com also has a list of support services.

If you would like to share your story with SBS News, email yourstory@sbs.com.au


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Published 21 October 2021 at 8:24pm
By Essam Al-Ghalib
Source: SBS News