A second refugee has self-immolated in the detention centre on Nauru, just days after 23-year-old Iranian refugee Omid Masoumali died in similar circumstances.
Hodan, a 19-year-old Somali woman, has been taken to Brisbane by air ambulance, but she suffered burns to more than 70% of her body and her condition remains critical.
Witnesses told Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) that all her clothes had been burned off. Another said she had suffered burns to her upper body and face at least as bad as Omid.
Hodan was one of three refugees snatched by Border Force at 3am from the Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation Centre on April 27. She was carried bodily out of the detention centre by Border Force officers screaming to be allowed to stay.
Hodan had been brought to Australia for medical treatment in November last year after she suffered a serious head injury in a motorcycle accident on Nauru. People who knew her did not believe she had recovered from the injury.
Sources on Nauru say Hodan's self-immolation was her second attempt at suicide since being returned to the island.
Hodan had been held on Nauru for three years before the motorcycle accident. Friends described her as a “gentle soul” who had been “destroyed” by her time in detention.
RAC spokesperson Ian Rintoul said: “This is another self-harm attempt that is Peter Dutton's responsibility. A vulnerable young woman who needed protection was a victim of a spiteful removal. She has been sent to the toxic environment that the Minister has created on Nauru. Tragically this was entirely predictable.”
Australian government policy, supported by the Labor Party, is that asylum seekers are sent to the two offshore processing facilities on Manus Island in or Nauru, ostensibly for processing. In practice, this means indefinite detention, as there have been only three resettlements in Cambodia and five in PNG — Nauru does not offer resettlement — out of more than 2000 people in detention.
New Zealand has offered to take refugees, but Australia has refused this, saying it was a “back door” to entering Australia.
On April 26 the PNG Supreme Court ruled that detention on Manus Island was illegal and unconstitutional, and its government announced that the Manus Island detention centre would be closed. Asylum seekers and refugees in both centres have become increasingly distressed by the uncertainty this has caused.
The United Nations has said Australia's offshore detention regime is acutely damaging, and called for refugees and asylum seekers to be removed from their current detention.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) regional representative in Canberra Catherine Stubberfield said there was “no doubt that the current policy of offshore processing and prolonged detention is immensely harmful” and that the mental health and physical wellbeing of people held in detention has deteriorated over time.
“There are approximately 2000 very vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru,” she said. “These people have already been through a great deal, many have fled war and persecution, some have already suffered trauma. Despite commendable efforts by the governments of Papua New Guinea and Nauru, arrangements in both countries have proved completely untenable.”
“The consensus among medical experts is that conditions of detention and offshore processing do immense damage to physical and mental health. UNHCR's principal concern today is that these refugees and asylum seekers are immediately moved to humane conditions with adequate support and services to prevent further unnecessary suffering.”
Immigration minister Peter Dutton's only comment has been to criticise "advocates and others" who he says are pressuring refugees to "behave in a certain way" and providing false hope to those held in offshore detention.
"I have previously expressed my frustration and anger at advocates and others who are in contact with those in regional processing centres and who are encouraging some of these people to behave in a certain way, believing that that pressure exerted on the Australian Government will see a change in our policy in relation to our border protection measures," he said.
"They can oppose government policy and espouse a cause for open borders, but that is not the policy of this government, and no action advocates or those in regional processing countries take will cause the government to deviate from its course.”
RAC has called a vigil for Hadon for Wednesday night from 5.30pm at Sydney Town Hall.