Morning broke with an uncertain future and miserable Christmas to look forward to for refugee Saudi journalists Sultan and Nassar*. But the sun will be setting on a different day altogether. After intense campaigning from the LGBTQ community, human rights activist Ivan Hinton-Teoh, and Australian journalist Peter Greste, Sultan was freed from Villawood Immigration Detention Centre and will be able to spend Christmas with boyfriend Nassar after all.
The journalists fled Saudi Arabia and arrived in Australia in October. They were detained at the airport on suspicion of seeking asylum and then placed in Villawood with their fate uncertain. However, their cause was championed by the LGBTQ community who petitioned the newly appointed Minister for Immigration, Hon Alan Tudge.
“Definitely, definitely, definitely the gay community rallied around us in a way that was so endearing and so powerful that I really feel it was the gay community that did this,” Sultan told Star Observer. “Dozens of people directly addressed the minister, that’s for sure and having Ivan Hinton-Teoh on our side was a big, big, big plus.”
Peter Greste, who himself experienced indefinite detention in a foreign country several years ago, was also instrumental in helping Sultan and Nassar.
“When Nassar left on Friday it was a very rough day for me because we thought we would be out together,” says Sultan. He was then assured he would be released on the following Monday, but that ended up being a soul destroying error.
Greste got in touch to offer words of advice which included not hanging on to hope. “Hope is your worst enemy,” Greste told Sultan.
At the same time, Greste represented hope.
“Peter Greste was pounding the minister from day one,” says Sultan.
Greste messaged Sultan earlier today and said he was speaking to Peter Dutton’s office and that the deputy minister was looking at Sultan’s paperwork.
“So the first indication of any freedom came from Peter Greste this morning. Then an hour later I got a call from Alison Battison, our lawyer…and she said it’s gonna happen today!” says Sultan, who was initially pessimistic. But it did happen. Now Sultan and Nassar are looking forward to starting a new life in a new land.
“We’re gonna be out there. We want to go to the clubs, we want to see what Australian gay society is like. And we just wanna be able to breathe and feel free and not be scared,” says Sultan.
“The whole Villawood experience, I mean, oh God, it was no fun at all and it really made us jaded towards the Australian government. It made us think, my God, have we made the right decision coming here?”
Of course, they now both absolutely feel they made the right decision and are deeply grateful to everyone who battled on their behalf.
“But really from the bottom of our hearts we have to thank the LGBT community. Just all the love that we saw on Twitter and on Facebook…I mean it really feels like we were adopted and this is our new family.”