Gay men and women are escaping Asia because of worsening homophobic attitudes and many are seeking refuge in New Zealand, a researcher says.

AUT University Associate Professor Sharyn Davies, who has studied gender and sexuality issues in Asia, says a "new category" of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) refugees coming from Indonesia and neighbouring countries was "sadly rising".

An Indonesian gay man, who wants to be known only as Jufrie, flew to New Zealand in January after his partner was arrested in Surabaya for being in a relationship with him.

A young Chinese couple, Tracey Bo and Effie Liu, both 25, left China for New Zealand with dreams of getting married, have children and get the same legal rights as opposite-sex couples - which is not possible in China.

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The Herald has also met a lesbian couple who travelled from Singapore to Auckland to get married in 2014. They have returned here twice to give birth because same-sex relationships are not recognised in the Asian island nation.

It is illegal for men in Singapore to have sex, where the law states that a man who has "any act of gross indecency with another male person" shall be punished with imprisonment of up to two years.

"In New Zealand, we have anti-discrimination laws and allow same sex marriage, so yes it's a mecca. NZ is quite like paradise," Davies said.

In Indonesia last year, two gay men aged 20 and 23 were sentenced and caned publicly in Aceh.

In the capital Jakarta last May, 141 men were arrested for participating in a "gay sex party" and a police raid at a sauna popular with gay men resulted in 51 arrests.

Davies said the situation was getting "really really bad" and getting worse for LGBT people.

"It started in Jan 2016 and just getting horrible and just getting horrible," she said.

There had been raids on private homes by police and even private security guards, Davies said.

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"Often this is under the guise of religion, specifically Islam, but Islam is actually just a scarecrow to allow people to 'legitimately' push their own private political agendas," said Davies.

"Politicians are often so homophobic...and a public way to display this is by arresting and criminalising the LGBT community."

Davies said people now had to be very secretive about their same-sex relationships "in a way they have never had to before".

Fei Liu and Tracy Bo left China for New Zealand because of the stigma of being gay. Photo / Michael Craig
Fei Liu and Tracy Bo left China for New Zealand because of the stigma of being gay. Photo / Michael Craig

Jufrie said his partner was arrested during a night raid by "religious security guards" at their home.

"It was about 2 or 3am, and they came and just rammed the door of the house down," he said.

"My partner held them out by placing a bookshelf at our room door and because of what he did, I managed to escape out of the toilet window."

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Jufrie said his partner was charged under the Pornography Act and jailed.

He did not want to be identified for fear that his family in Indonesia could be targeted by fundamentalist Muslim groups.

"My dream is that one day my husband can also escape to New Zealand and we can legally get married and live happily ever after here," Jufrie said.

Marriage is also in the plans for Bo and Liu, who are in New Zealand on work and student visas respectively.

Bo first came from the Chinese province of Shanxi to Auckland in 2012 as an international student.

In 2015, she and met Liu, from Guangdong, on a Chinese lesbian app.

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They travelled back to China but found it "impossible" to settle there. Both have not told their parents they were a couple because of fears they could be "disowned" by their families.

"In China, there is a stigma about being a lesbian and we face strong pressure from family and society," Bo said.

"We found it is impossible to settle there, and the only place we can be together is here in New Zealand."

Gay rights are protected by the Human Rights Act in New Zealand and same-sex couples have been able to marry since 2013.

"We hope to get a residence visa and stay here, and our dream is that one day our family in China can also accept us as who we are," Bo added.

Overseas same-sex couples made up just under half of the total same-sex marriages here since the 2013 law change. Over the four-year period, 1785 overseas same-sex couples married in New Zealand.

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The number of same-sex marriages has also risen from 354 in 2013 - which included 147 overseas couples - to 960 last year.

There is no available data on how many overseas LGBT people are coming to New Zealand on any visa categories.