Down and out from a decade in Australian immigration detention, Khaled El Ali’s heart sank even further when he learned his first cousin and his young family had been killed in Gaza.
Mr El Ali, 37, is a stateless Palestinian man born in Lebanon to Palestinian refugees who were never granted Lebanese citizenship and only given travel documents.
He has family in Gaza, where Israeli aerial bombardment of the blockaded enclave has killed more than 6000 people including 2000 children, and in the West Bank.
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He was informed by his mother last week about his relatives being killed in Gaza.
“I can’t help but feel sad and hopeless seeing the news of kids being bombed. It makes me think of my own kid who I haven’t seen in 14 years,” he told AAP choking back tears.
“I’ve lost a lot of family members over the years in Palestine and I’m never going to see them again.”
El Ali migrated to Australia with his mother in 2005, but due to a series of crimes and homelessness in his youth, he ended up in jail.
‘The room I live in is my grave’
He became an unlawful non-citizen in October 2013 and was immediately transferred to immigration detention between Melbourne, Perth and a stint in Christmas Island which he described as a “nightmare”.
“The detention centre is my cemetery and the room I live in is my grave,” El Ali said from Sydney’s Villawood Detention Centre, where he has spent four years in custody.
“The same room, the same yard, the same food. I’m not a machine, I’m a human”
“I feel like I’m alive, but I’m dead inside.”
Khaled El Ali has been detained for a decade in Australian immigration detention centres. Credit: AAP
El Ali suffers from epileptic fits and his mental health has acutely suffered.
He feels helpless that he cannot support his mother who is battling breast cancer.
A 17-page opinion released by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention earlier in October said Mr El Ali’s detention for a decade “is not reasonable, necessary or proportionate”.
It called on the Australian government to immediately release him using ministerial powers under section 195A of the Migration Act.
The working group also urged the government to conduct an independent investigation into “the arbitrary deprivation of liberty” of Mr El-Ali and “to take appropriate measures against those responsible for the violation of his rights.”
Australia is one of few Western nations not to set time limits on immigration detention.
The average stint is 708 days, or almost two years, according to official figures released by the Department of Home Affairs.
There are 31 stateless detainees among 1056 people in detention centres.
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Australia is a signatory to various international human rights laws including the principle of non-refoulement, which means refugees cannot be sent back to countries where they face persecution.
El Ali said he was given a list of about 15 countries Australian Border Force put together as a safe third country but all the nations rejected him.
He was even willing to deported to Lebanon but his request was also rebuffed.
“The indefinite detention regime in Australia of placing people like Khaled in immigration prison for an open-ended period of time is incredibly detrimental to his mental and physical health and to Australia’s reputation,” his lawyer Alison Battisson said.
“It’s a microcosm of what’s happening to many Palestinians around the world.
“The UN has demanded his release and Australia is just ignoring it.”
Drawing on the UN’s opinion, the Palestinian embassy in Canberra also pleaded with the government to free El Ali in a statement on Tuesday.
It urged Immigration Minister Andrew Giles and Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil to “comply with the opinion of the UN and intervene immediately to reduce the suffering of one Palestinian who, through no fault of his own, does not have a homeland.”
A spokesperson for Giles has previously said the government was open to exploring measures aimed at addressing barriers to immigration status resolution and the risks of long-term detention.
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