There have been hundreds of incidents of self-harm in Australia’s vast immigration detention network that holds mostly refugees and asylum seekers, under both the Labor party and the liberal party, but mandatory and indefinite detention of refugees and asylum seekers remains legal. Only the Australian Minister of immigration has the discretionary power to release these men, women and children from detention.
This is a media release written by RISE two years ago about the death of ‘S’ in Villawood IDC:
Fourth Death in Villawood Immigration Detention Centre
RISE: Refugees, Survivors and Ex-Detainees Media Release
In the early hours of the morning, on Wednesday 26th October 2011, RISE was given the tragic news that “S”, a 27 year old Sri Lankan Tamil refugee from Villawood Immigration Detention centre (IDC) in the suburbs of Sydney, killed himself after drinking poison.
This day marked 2 years and 24 days of S’s mandatory and indefinite incarceration in Australia’s Immigration detention network. It also marked “Deepavali” (The Festival of Light) that he, as a Hindu, wished to celebrate at his friend’s house. The day before Deepavali, S received the news that his application to visit his friend’s house with SERCO escorts had been rejected by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. SERCO officers had inspected the house sometime back and had indicated to his friend that they were satisfied with the layout of the house.
With limited access to legal and other welfare support services for asylum seekers and refugees this man was among many whose application for refugee status was rejected twice in Christmas island IDC after they arrived by boat to seek asylum. S was finally accepted in August 2011 as a refugee, after the long struggle to get through the days in a non-transparent, hostile immigration detention environment including witnessing 3 deaths of fellow detainees who committed suicide in the space of 3 months in Villawood IDC.
All 8 who protested on the roof with “S” were subsequently recognised as refugees, but now, just three have been released with a visa, while the rest are still being held indefinitely in detention. One of these detainees is undergoing treatment for tuberculosis after repeated requests for medical treatment for more than a year. All of these detained refugees, including S, applied for community detention.
At the time of his death, S was held in the “housing” area. This is the same area in which a family (including 3 children) from the boat the Oceanic Viking are being held. Like S, they too have been detained for more than 2 years. Refugees with adverse security assessments held in other parts of Villawood IDC were informed on 25th October 2011, that they would be transferred to the housing area. One of these men, refused to move, with the statement that this was nothing more than “housing arrest” and did nothing to solve the problem of being detained indefinitely without any offer of a durable solution in sight.
Throughout his time in detention, S had been quite active in asserting his rights and questioning the actions of SERCO and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship that had kept him arbitrarily detained and moved haphazardly about Villawood IDC, particularly in the last 12 months of his incarceration. These actions included S’s detention in isolation as well as SERCO staff conveniently removing him and the family from the Oceanic Viking from their rooms when the Australian Human Rights Commission came to Villawood IDC to interview detainees in the “housing” area. This latter act was considerably suspect given that these two parties had been in detention much longer than the other detainees in the “housing” area.
Just after he got his refugee status, a RISE advocate took down some notes in the faint hope that S would have his visa and soon be able to access our settlement program. He had years of work experience in Welding (including Gas cutting and X-ray welding) and had worked in the construction industry. Sadly, S’s hope to settle and start a new life in Australia will now never come to pass.
To quote a refugee from Villawood detention centre: “Detention in Australia is like tying a person’s hands and putting food in front of him, which he cannot eat; after some time he loses his appetite and he doesn’t feel like eating it anymore. That is how we feel about life after we have been in detention.”