Protest over death at Australian detention centre
September 20, 2010
SYDNEY—-A Fijian man died suddenly at a Sydney immigration centre on Monday, officials said, with a protest breaking out in the compound after claims he had jumped from a rooftop fearing deportation.
Immigration officials said they were helping a police investigation into the “sudden death of a 36-year-old detainee” at Villawood detention centre on Sydney's western fringe.
“The Fijian national had been detained at (Villawood) since August 17,” the department said in a statement. A spokesman said the “circumstances surrounding his death are not yet clear” and described it as a “tragic incident”.
Refugee advocates who have spoken by phone to inmates said the man, who they say was due to be deported Monday, had “thrown himself from the rooftop” of a building inside the 300-person facility, and was believed to have died instantly.
“The other detainees are very distressed,” said activist Jamal Daoud.
A handful of Tamil detainees took to the roof in protest after the incident, with a larger group gathering in the grass below with bedsheets folded into the letters “SOS”, local television showed.
“They are very fearful that they will be deported,” Tamil community spokeswoman Sara Nathan said of the men on the roof, who she had spoken with on the telephone.
“They have also clearly said that rather than be deported they will take their lives and donate their organs.”
Nathan said she had pleaded with the men not to act rashly, but they had refused to come down until officials agreed to review their cases.
Hundreds of Tamils have arrived in Australia fleeing ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, which they argue is still not safe for them despite the end of the country's civil war.
Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said the Fijian man and a younger relative, believed to be his nephew, were due to be deported Monday morning.
“The death of the Fijian man has thrown a stark light on mandatory detention and conditions inside the detention centres,” Rintoul said.
“Three Tamil asylum seekers in Villawood have attempted suicide in recent weeks and there have been serious suicide attempts on Christmas Island,” he added, referring to Australia's main immigration processing centre.
Australia has a policy of mandatory detention for asylum-seekers while their claims are processed, and generally holds detainees on the remote Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.
But increased numbers of poor illegal immigrants arriving by boat — more than 4,000 this year, mainly Asians fleeing conflict and economic hardship — have forced the reopening of some centres on the country's mainland.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard wants to open a regional processing centre for refugees and is in negotiations with neighbouring East Timor about building it there.
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