SYDNEY: A Sri Lankan asylum-seeker has died after setting himself on fire while awaiting a visa decision in Australia, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said yesterday, with a Tamil group claiming he was “living in great fear”.
Leorsin Seemanpillai, 29, who was living in Geelong, outside Melbourne, after being granted a temporary visa a year ago, suffered burns to 90 percent of his body after the incident on Saturday morning. He died on Sunday in a Melbourne hospital.
“This man sadly died as a result of a very serious set of injuries that were self-inflicted,” Morrison said. “And I don’t think we are in any position, and I frankly don’t think anyone else is any position, to draw any conclusions about what is a person’s mind in that situation.”
Aran Mylvaganam of the Tamil Refugee Council, who was at Seemanpillai’s bedside in hospital and knew him for a year, said he was “living in great fear” of being sent back to Sri Lanka, where he believed his life would be in danger.
“I had numerous conversations where he would repeatedly raise concerns about being deported back to Sri Lanka,” Mylvaganam said and added that Seemanpillai’s fears were fuelled by seeing his friends taken from communities where they were placed in detention centres to be deported.
“The immigration officials have been harassing him on many occasions where they wanted him to voluntarily leave,” he claimed. “There was no doubt that the Australian government’s cruel and inhumane policy has pushed him to do this. It wasn’t a choice for him.”
Morrison said Seemanpillai was given “no indication that he was being removed anywhere or that he hadn’t been found to be a refugee or for that matter that he had”.
Seemanpillai, who arrived by boat in Australia in January 2013, was receiving community mental health support and his refugee application was still being processed, Morrison added.
“I can also advise that the last case worker contact with Seemanpillai was on Friday, May 30, and I am advised that there was no concern or indication of any suicidal intention... at that time,” he said.
He added that authorities had been in touch with his father in India, who requested a funeral for his son in Geelong.
While most boat-people come to Australia via Indonesia, many have also attempted the difficult trip from Sri Lanka, where they claim persecution over the country’s Tamil separatist conflict.
Australia has sent back dozens of Sri Lankan nationals who tried to enter the country illegally.
Seemanpillai’s death came as activists said seven Iranian asylum-seekers sewed their lips shut on Sunday in a mass hunger-strike at an immigration detention centre on Christmas Island — an Australian outpost in the Indian Ocean.
Activists said about 400 asylum-seekers were refusing food as part of a protest against the death of Iranian Reza Barati, who was killed in a riot this year at another Australian detention centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. Morrison said that protests were not uncommon at detention centres and that the matter was “well in hand”.
Under Australia’s tough refugee policy, asylum-seekers who arrived by boat after July 2013 have been sent to detention centres on Manus Island or Nauru in the Pacific for processing and permanent resettlement.
According to the immigration department, more than 24,000 asylum-seekers are living in Australia on bridging visas of the type Seemanpillai was on. A further 2,450 asylum-seekers are being held on Nauru and Manus Island and another 823 are detained on Christmas Island.