The story of Ali*, a gay refugee detained in an immigration prison for over eight years, has moved Australians who are now urging the federal government to give him back his freedom. Prominent Australian television personalities have come together in a video campaign to highlight Ali’s story. A change.org petition that is part of the campaign #Freedom4Ali has received signatures from over 11,000 Australians.

Actors Anthony Brandon Wong (The Matrix sequels, The Family Law), Remi Hi (Crazy Rich Asians, Spiderman), Kat Stewart (Underbelly, Offspring), Brooke Satchwell (Packed To The Rafters), Bruce Spence (Stork, Mad Max 2), author Benjamin Law are among the personalities who have lent their voices in the video to narrate Ali’s story.

Ali had fled to Australia to escape persecution in his home country in the Middle East, where being gay is a criminal offence. Ali was caught with his then partner Sayed Reza and was stabbed by his partner’s male relatives. After the local militia threatened him and his family, Ali fled.

Australia, where his sister (who he is out to) lived, did not provide the refuge that he had hoped for. Ali was detained and he has been in a detention centre for the better part of a decade. According to Ali’s lawyers, his sister is willing to support him but the federal government has refused to consider his plea for asylum.

Anthony Brandon Wong, who is openly gay, told Star Observer that when Jonathan Brough, the director he had worked with on season one of the SBS Comedy series The Family Law, approached him to be part of the campaign, he readily came on board.

“Jonathan told me about Ali’s traumatic experiences, fleeing his country and being held in detention for eight years. I felt I had to lend my support to such an important cause. I couldn’t turn my back on Ali’s cry for help.”

Wong said he knows of LGBTQI refugees who have been allowed to stay in Australia, but pointed out that the country’s abysmal record of offshore detention centres, abuse and mistreatment of refugees have been well documented by the Refugee Council Of Australia in a 2020 report.

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 Alison Battisson, Ali’s lawyer and Director Principal of Human Rights For All, said he faces some of the same threats in the detention centre that had made him flee his country of birth.

“Inside detention, Ali has no support. To come out as someone who is LGBTQI in a place like immigration detention comes with the risk of assault, harassment, or worse. LGBTQI people are often shunned in detention, and live in fear of being outed to their families, friends and communities,” Battisson said in a statement. “To date, the Department of Home Affairs refuses to reopen Ali’s case. He sits in limbo, as he cannot be returned to his country of origin where he will face violence and persecution.”

Wong pointed out that sending someone like Ali, who faces prison and death if they are sent back to their home countries violates international conventions that Australia is a part of, besides being inhumane.

“As a party to the Refugee Convention, Australia has agreed to ensure that asylum seekers who meet the definition of a refugee are not sent back to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened. So, someone like Ali, who was almost killed for being gay in his home country, should be granted asylum in Australia. I don’t understand why he has been detained for eight long years and why the Department of Home Affairs is refusing to reopen his very valid case,” said Wong.

The actor said that he would like to see more compassion for the so-called “other” and as Australians we can do better.

“If 1.5million Australians, Americans or British fled their homes, the world would take notice. But most of us pay no attention to the 1.5 million Syrian children forced to flee their country. We are all one human family and it’s time more of us opened our hearts to the suffering of our brothers and sisters from other nations.”

*Ali’s name has been changed to protect his identity.

You can support the petition asking Peter Dutton, Alan Tudge and the Department of Home Affairs to grant Ali a visa here.

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