About 40 people gathered on the outskirts of Villawood detention centre for a nighttime vigil on October 26 to commemorate the death of a Tamil refugee detainee who had taken his own life that morning.
The gathering included refugee activists, members of the Tamil community and friends of Daya Jayasakara, or “Shooty”, as he was known. Shooty had been in detention for two years after arriving in Australia by boat seeking asylum. He had been granted refugee status several months earlier and was waiting for ASIO security clearance.
The vigil received reports that Serco was preventing detainees inside the centre from accessing areas where they could view the gathering, a tactic the corporation has used during past protests at the site.
Participants consistently spoke about Shooty as being very jovial, some expressing shock and confusion at the fact that such a happy man would commit suicide. A Tamil man recounted how Shooty took it upon himself to keep up morale when the boat on which he and other asylum seekers were travelling became disabled and they were left without food and water for 10 days.
Others raised the policy of mandatory detention, saying such tragedies would not occur if asylum seekers were treated with dignity. Nick Riemer of Refugee Action Coalition spoke of the callous attitude of government minister Chris Bowen, “whose response to the death was to say he [Shooty] was probably a security risk”.
Riemer also spoke against opposition leader Tony Abbott’s remark that we should not “draw too many policy outcomes from what is an individual tragedy”, asking “how many individual tragedies must occur before the government changes its policy?”
The crowd also heard from Ramees, a Tamil detainee in Villawood, who described the depressed atmosphere in the centre and his own trauma, saying he takes three sleeping pills every night and suffers from bad dreams.
Lingaruban, a Tamil refugee who had been released from detention the same day, explained how the centre lacked adequate mental health care and detainees were simply given pills if they were suffering mental problems.
Lingaruban also mentioned Shooty’s wish that, even in death, he would not want to return to Sri Lanka. Fellow detainess in Villawood are asking permission for Shooty’s body to be taken to the centre for a short Hindu ceremony, which is being denied. Supporters are also seeking the possibility of Shooty’s next of kin being allowed to Australia for the funeral.