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Dead 'refugee' was still under investigation

26 October 2011 05:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has denied that a Sri Lankan man who died in an apparent suicide attempt at Sydney's Villawood Detention Centre overnight had been cleared of being a security threat.

Mr. Bowen said the man was still being investigated by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation pending his release from detention and his "ongoing links with various organisations was being assessed".

Mr. Bowen said the Immigration Department had not yet been able to contact the man's next of kin, a brother in Sri Lanka.

He confirmed the Tamil man, who was in his mid-20s, had asked to leave the centre for a religious festival, and that his request had been denied.

However, he could not say if it was the department, or the detention centre's managers, Serco, who had communicated the news to him.
Mr. Bowen said the mans death was a tragedy and he expressed condolences for his family.

"We take responsibility for people to have the chance to have their claims assessed, but we cannot and will not compromise on matters of national security," he said.

The man was found in distress at the Sydney Immigration Residential Housing Complex, next to the Villawood Detention Centre, last night.
An Immigration Department spokesman said an ambulance went to the centre, but the man died. He said police would investigate and expected the death would be referred to the coroner.

"Traumatic experience"
Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said the man, who had been in Australia for two years, had been granted refugee status but was waiting for his security clearance.

Mr. Rintoul said the man was taken to hospital after taking poison, but died shortly afterwards.

"Traumatically, he was one of the witnesses to the three suicides in Villawood in 2010," Mr. Rintoul said.
"He died about 3am today."

The man was also one of the roof-top protesters following the suicides, and was well known in the detention centre.

"He was a very outgoing guy; he was always willing to help everyone," Mr. Rintoul said.

Mr. Rintoul said it was hard to know why the man took his life, but there was talk he was upset after being refused the chance to attend celebrations for the Hindu festival of Diwali, which happens today.

"I do know he made an application to attend a Hindu festival and he got a letter rejecting the application yesterday," he said.

"Whether that was the final straw, it's impossible to know," he said.
"How many more lives will it take before the government acts to end mandatory detention?

"How absolutely tragic, but how telling, that an accepted refugee could feel despair enough to take their own life in a detention centre."
Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said she would ask Mr. Bowen to explain the circumstances of the man's death.
"I will ask the minister if he was receiving counselling, and I want to know who was able to visit him and if there were any restrictions on that," Senator Hanson-Young said.

She also questioned why the man was made to remain in detention when he had already passed an ASIO security check.

The Immigration Department requires people who have been given legal refugee status to undergo two security clearances - one administered by ASIO that takes about 48 hours, and another that is administered by the department.

"It is a pretty tragic case. He had already been in detention for over two years, and by anyone's definition that is far, far too long," Senator Hanson-Young said.

She also questioned if the man's mental health was being looked after.
Villawood does not have an in-house psychologist, and medical staff are at the centre only until 8pm.

Former immigration minister Chris Evans said the man's death was "highly regrettable".

Senator Evans, who served as immigration minister under the Rudd government, said the increased number of asylum-seeker arrivals was straining the system.

"My sympathies go to the family," he said.

"There's no doubt there are issues involved with detaining people, but equally Australia has a border control mechanism which is designed to say 'You can't come into the country without a visa.'"

Senator Evans, who now holds the employment and workplace relations portfolio, said that, that while mandatory detention was needed for health and security checks, community detention was often a better option when it was possible.
"There is a need for efficient processing," he said.

"It's partly because the system has been under pressure due to the increased number of arrivals." (Source:The Canberra Times)
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