Thu, Oct 27, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Sri Lankan refugee kills himself in Australian center


A Sri Lankan man died in Australian immigration detention, officials said on Tuesday, with refugee advocates claiming he killed himself with poison after being refused permission to attend a Hindu festival.

The man died shortly after midnight at Sydney Immigration Residential Housing — a family compound adjacent to the Villawood detention center in western Sydney — after being found in a distressed state, officials said.

His death comes as leaders from 54 Commonwealth countries, including Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse, arrive in Australia for a summit set to discuss the plight of asylum-seekers and other human-rights issues.

Refugee advocates said the man, an ethnic Tamil aged in his mid-20s, had been granted asylum in Australia several months ago, but was awaiting a background security check before he could be freed.

He had been in detention for over two years and had repeatedly requested permission to live in the community while his application was processed, according to Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition.

Rintoul said the man had taken poison after receiving a letter refusing him permission to be temporarily released to celebrate Diwali, the biggest festival in the Hindu calendar.

“Tragically, he had witnessed three other successful suicides in Villawood,” Rintoul said. “How absolutely tragic, but how telling, that an accepted refugee could feel despair enough to take their own life in a detention center.”

Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen confirmed the man had been accepted as a refugee, but authorities were reviewing whether he was a “risk to national security” and he was not considered a candidate for community release in the meantime.

“This was a long, involved, complex and protracted case,” he said.

Bowen said the man’s request to join a friend for Diwali celebrations had been refused and he had received counseling while in detention for trauma and torture.

Bowen could not comment on the claims of poisoning, saying the cause of death was a matter for police and “no doubt” a coronial inquest.

It is the seventh death in immigration detention in the past year. Australia’s top medical body warned last month that even children were attempting to take their own lives and self-harming in the riot-plagued centers.

The government has ordered an investigation into reports that incidents of self-harm have surged 12-fold in the past year as waiting times ballooned due to a surge in boatloads of asylum seekers.

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