Asylum seeker dies from self-inflicted burns

An Iranian asylum seeker has died after setting himself on fire at an Australian detention centre on the remote Pacific island of Nauru.

Roshni Kapur
30 April 2016

Refugees breakout from the Woomera Detention Center, encouraged by protestors, in Woomera, Australia in 2002. Rick Rycroft / Press Association. All rights reserved.A 23-year-old Iranian asylum seeker who set himself on fire at an Australian offshore detention centre on the remote Pacific island of Nauru has died from his injuries. The man, known as Omid, who set himself on fire earlier this week was airlifted to Brisbane Hospital in Australia. He died almost 24 hours due to severe burns to his torso after arriving at the Royal Brisbane Hospital.  He was initially taken to Nauru Hospital after the act of self-immolation while officials from the United Nations refugee agency were visiting the island. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection confirmed his death.

"A 23-year-old Iranian man who set himself on fire in Nauru has tragically died today from his injuries. Appropriate support is being provided to his wife and friends," stated a press release from the department.

"The Department expresses its sympathies to his wife, family and friends. The death will be reported to the Queensland Coroner. No further comment will be made at this time."

Human Rights campaigner Aurora Adams said Omid had been in detention for three years.

"All he wanted was a future and a place to rebuild his life," Adams was quoted in a statement from Community action group Get Up. Get Up has staged protests outside Department of Immigration offices and in public areas calling for asylum seekers and refugees in offshore detention to be returned to Australia.

The Refugee Action Coalition has blamed the Australian government and their offshore detention system, saying they were responsible for Omid's death. Australia deports asylum seekers it intercepts in its waters for processing at offshore locations, including Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

Australia has earned a global reputation for having a tough approach towards refugees.

Earlier in February, the Australian High Court ruled that the government's controversial policy of detaining asylum seekers offshore is constitutionally and legally valid.  The case was brought by an anonymous Bangladeshi woman who was detained in Nauru after trying to enter Australia illegally by boat. She came to Australia, while pregnant, for medical treatment and later gave birth to her daughter there. She tried to stop the government sending her back to an offshore refugee camp in January 2014.

The High Court dismissed her case in a six-to-one ruling, arguing that the government’s policy does not violate the Australian constitution and that deporting the refugees back to Nauru was in line with the country's policy.

Omid’s death comes at a time when the offshore processing centre on Manus Island is threatened with closure. Papua New Guinea's Supreme Court ruled earlier this week that the detention of asylum seekers was unconstitutional and illegal.

Australian and Papua New Guinean officials are holding talks next week to discuss the fate of around 850 asylum seekers and refugees detained on Manus Island. The Papuan New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill said that the detention centre on Manus Island must shut down after the Supreme Court’s ruling. 

However, the incumbent Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has repeatedly said that the asylum seekers from Manus Island cannot return to Australia. Turnbull supports the tough stance taken by his predecessor Tony Abbott on unauthorised asylum seeker arrivals.

He has also struck out the possibility of sending detainees to New Zealand, which offered earlier this year to take some of the refugees Australia refused to settle.

In contrast, five MPs from the opposition Labour party have declared that they do not support Australia's asylum seeker policy. The controversial asylum seeker policy has seen bipartisan support from the opposition Labour party and the ruling coalition.

Labour MP Melissa Park was quoted in an online article on Fairfax Media that the offshore processing policy was "a sick game that needs to end". "It's inevitable that the government will need to have another plan for what is going to happen, and the most logical thing to do is to bring those people to Australia," said Park.

Canberra has come under fire for its offshore detention policy, but has refused to budge on the matter.

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