Vigil to be held on Manus Island after death of Rohingya refugee | Australia news
On Friday evening, refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island will hold a vigil for Salim, the seventh of their group to die on the island, and the third apparent suicide in less than a year. Supporters in Sydney and Melbourne will join them.
Salim, a father of three in his 50s, died on Tuesday after jumping out of a moving vehicle. He had been on Manus Island for almost five years, under Australia’s offshore immigration policy.
Salim was a Rohingya from Myanmar – a stateless man with no country claiming him. Because he sought asylum by boat, Australia would not take him. PNG gave him refugee status, but as a developing country that struggles to provide healthcare to its own citizens, Salim’s ailments were beyond it.
On Manus Island, the Australian-financed contractors scaled back healthcare and other services, and by all appearances he fell through the cracks.
The Australian director of Human Rights Watch, Elaine Pearson, said Rohingya refugees were not able to return home, given the situation in Myanmar.
“It’s a travesty that Australia has forced them to spend the last five years playing a waiting game on a remote Pacific island while living in an insecure environment with cutbacks to mental health and other services.”
Salim had epilepsy and severe mental illness. Doctors4Refugees repeatedly lobbied for him to be brought to Australia for treatment of his epilepsy, psychosis and other ailments.
According to advocates, Rohingya refugees on Manus also petitioned authorities regarding his plight.
“He has seizure attack almost every day and it is really frightening to all of us,” they wrote.
“We are sure that you (ABF, IHMS, Broadspectrum, Wilson Security) are well aware of his sickness. He should not be here at this stage as this environment is worsening his health to such an extent we fear for his life.”
The Manus provincial police commander, David Yapu, told Guardian Australia police had launched an investigation into his death and determined it was suicide.
He offered his condolences to Salim’s friends and family, and, in PNG’s Post Courier newspaper, warned of more suicides among a group of people under pressure and struggling to cope.
“There is great need for the Australian government and PNG government to help ease the burdens of these fellow human beings who are beginning to resort to unthinkable acts of violence and self mutilation,” Yapu said.
Salim’s wife did not know her husband was dead until she received a phone call from an Asylum Seeker Resource CEntre employee, who had called to offer condolences. Neither PNG nor Australian authorities and service providers had called to inform her.
The Department of Home Affairs told the Huffington Post questions should be directed at the PNG government.
Someone in the Australian government, however, did find time to provide background to a reporter on Salim’s history, including alleged assaults. Citing “government sources”, the report in the Australian said Salim was the subject of dozens of incident reports, including an alleged attack on a nurse.
The Greens senator Nick McKim described the action as “clearly designed to smear the legacy of a man who’d died less than 12 hours before”.
In Canberra, the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, deflected questions on this from the MP Adam Bandt, refusing to be given a “moral lecture” by the Greens.
Advocates have despaired at what else they could have done. Though Salim’s poor health was well known to them and other refugees, one said he was beyond reach and no longer engaging. Help for him and for others similarly ill was required on the ground, she said. But after the closure of the centre, torture and trauma counsellors were never reinstated.
Last week, Amnesty International labelled the move “inexplicable”.
The day before Salim took his own life, the home affairs department conceded the service no longer existed, but insisted that if a particular specialist or mental health pathway was required it could be “turned on”.
There has been no offer of extra counselling services following Salim’s death, despite it being witnessed by several refugees.
Sudanese refugee Abdul Aziz Muhamat and Kurdish refugee Behrouz Boochani said they and others blamed the Australian government for Salim’s death.
“These politicians are happy taking a bath with our blood. There’s blood on your hands, your shame, your guilt,” Muhamat told Guardian Australia.
“His death creates a lot of depression among the refugees. It came at a time when everyone is disappointed by the US [resettlement] results.”
“The refugees are deeply saddened by the news of another death. All of us knew him and we were aware of his illness,” Boochani said.
“But the Australian immigration chose to ignore him. His death is the seventh one on Manus.”
The department of home affairs referred questions to the PNG government.
• Crisis support services can be reached 24 hours a day: Lifeline 13 11 14; Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467; Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800; MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78; Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636