It's 18 days to Christmas. For most of us, it's when we begin to look forward to the holidays, excited to see our families and share the joy of Christmas or other religious and holiday celebrations. We plan meals and nominate someone to bring the esky and the ice.
But, for the men who are asylum seekers and refugees detained at the Mantra hotel in Cooper, this marks their seventh year in detention—seven long hard years on Manus or Nauru and now locked on one floor without access to outdoors or fresh air; seven years without liberty or certainty about their future; seven years getting sicker and sicker, because it is indefinite detention making them sick; seven years with nothing more than FaceTime to keep in touch with their mums and dads, their partners, their kids and their friends.
They have committed no crime. It is not illegal to seek asylum.
It's a similar story for the beloved family of Priya and Nades and their two daughters, who have marked 1,000 days since they were taken from their community in Queensland and consigned to a bizarre form of isolated incarceration.
It doesn't have to be that way. The government needs to recognise it is game over for indefinite detention. The men detained at the Mantra and across MITA and BITA and Kangaroo Point and Manus and Nauru, who sought our country's protection, need safe, permanent homes.
The government can return Priya and Nades and their children home to Biloela. I ask them to do that. It doesn't need to be a Christmas miracle. It's just the right thing to do.
One father who has committed no crime but will be spending his fourth Christmas behind bars is Mohammad El Halabi. Mr El Halabi is the former director of World Vision Australia operating in Gaza and the West Bank. He was arrested on 15 June 2016 by the Israeli authorities on allegations of funnelling $50 million of World Vision money into the terrorist group Hamas. The father of five, who was responsible for supervising humanitarian relief programs for World Vision, was declared by the United Nations in 2014 as a humanitarian hero.
It has now been more than four years since his arrest, with the Israeli prosecutors yet to prove the allegations made against him or order his release. According to reports, Mr El Halabi has been subjected to physical and psychological torture, has restricted medical care and limited visitation rights, and has been forced to attend court 146 times without evidence having been presented to substantiate the allegations. Investigations conducted by our DFAT and independent auditors, as well as World Vision, have all failed to show any evidence that the money was ever diverted.
It's imperative that the international community continues to place public pressure on Israel. Without any credible evidence to support the charges, Israel must release him.