Refugee suicide raises questions

Saturday, January 12, 2013
Refugees' mental health often deteriorates in detention.

A Tamil refugee living in Australia on a bridging visa died in a Fremantle hospital on January 5 from suicide. He had a wife and young daughter still in Sri Lanka, and was waiting for an outcome on his refugee status.

It was his second suicide attempt. Refugee advocates in Perth said he had been tortured in Sri Lanka and his mental health deteriorated while in detention on Christmas Island and in the remote north Queensland Scherger base — where he first attempted suicide.

It was understood that he had been out of detention one month before committing suicide and had spent time in a private psychiatric hospital. He was living in a Fremantle suburb with a group of other Tamil men.

Refugee Rights Action Network member Victoria Martin-Iverson questioned whether he had received adequate follow up support. “People are being abandoned without any appropriate support,” she told the West Australian on January 7.

Others think he may have been anxious about being sent to Nauru or Manus Island, or deported back to Sri Lanka.

Psychiatrist Louise Newman told SBS: "Some have actually been informed that at any point they could be transferred to Nauru or Manus Island which immediately of course raises severe anxiety and concerns and particularly for vulnerable people, that sort of situation of uncertainty of not knowing what the future will bring can only produce increasing levels of mental health problems and stress."

Perth-based Tamil rights campaigner and social worker Rama Somasunderam said: “The fear is … anytime they can be deported and that's the problem. They are fearful that policies can take them back and they will be harmed."

Fremantle councillor and long-time Tamil rights activist Sam Wainwright told Green Left Weekly that Australia's support for the Sri Lankan regime also caused distress for the Tamil and refugee communities.

“The inevitable logic of Australia's immigration policy is one of genocide denial, and aiding and abetting in the crimes of the Sri Lankan government. The two policies are joined at the hip.

“Bob Carr and Julia Bishop say that the war is supposedly over and people have no need to claim asylum, and are sending them back without testing their claims. Is there a place with a worse human rights record than Sri Lanka?”

Refugee Survivors and Ex-detainees (RISE) said in a statement: “RISE is not surprised by this suicide and is particularly concerned about the safety and wellbeing of Sri Lankan asylum seekers in Australia with over 800 Sri Lankan asylum seekers in the last four months have been refouled without being allowed to make an asylum claim.”

The man's body will be cremated, but family were hesitant to take it back to Sri Lanka, fearing retaliation.

[There are associations in Australia that can help and support Tamil refugees suffering depression or thinking about suicide, such as the Tamil Association of Western Australia or the Australian Tamil Congress. Lifeline can be phoned on 13 11 14.]

From GLW issue 950