Another tragic suicide at Villawood as detainees protest

An Iraqi man has tragically taken his own life on Monday 15th November at Villawood. This is the second suicide in two months at the detention centre run by the Multinational Serco. Refugee activists are holding protests outside the centre as detainees go on a hunger strike inside the centre. This suicide comes in the same week as a violent brawl at a Melbourne Detention Centre between Afghan teenagers recently moved from Christmas Island. Just like under Howard, traumatised people are being stressed and broken by the thousands by the Gillard Government with over 5000 people locked up in Australia's immigration gulag's. Just to emphasize the sense of history repeating, the Federal Government has confirmed that 10 asylum seekers have sown their lips together in protest on Christmas Island as the trouble in the detention centres escalates.
RISE Press Release -- RAC Sydney Press Release -- Article on Brawl in Melbourne Centre -- Solidarity Banners in Newtown -- Summary of recent protests

RISE PRESS RELEASE: Asylum seekers: Another death, hunger strikes and depression all over again

Today, just past midnight RISE received the news that an asylum seeker at Villawood detention centre died after hanging himself. The ambulance arrived 45 minutes after he was found by the other detainees and Serco officers. He was held in immigration detention for about a year in Christmas Island before being transferred to Villawood detention centre. His refugee claim has been rejected by the department of immigration twice. He has a wife and three children.

Yesterday morning, a phone text message received on the RISE emergency hot-line stated “We would like to inform you we are in a hunger strike until death”. The text message was from two asylum seekers who are also from Villawood. Both arrived on the same boat and have been in detention for 1 year and five months, and while both have been accepted as refugees by Australia, they are likely to be incarcerated for even longer while they undergo security clearances. They are demanding that the government responds immediately to their respective visa applications.

The desperation of the detainees in Australia is getting worse as the visa processing system takes a long time. Another Villawood asylum seeker, who has also been accepted as a refugee and arrived on the same boat as the two on hunger strike, is waiting for his security clearance and has a limb missing due to injuries sustained during the conflict in his country. Three others from the same boat, who have also been accepted as refugees, are waiting for their security clearances in Perth detention centres. One of them has had half his foot blown off after stepping on a land mine in his country.

A Villawood detainee, who acts as a spokesperson for detained asylum seekers, stated “we are on the edge of our lives and it is unfair that the Australian government is treating us like animals”.

RISE CEO and ex-detainee Ramesh Fernandez says “the Australian government needs to focus on a humanitarian solution rather than spending most of their energy on political rhetoric on asylum seekers”.

More and more detainees in Australian detention centres are becoming agitated and depressed due to the long delays. The debate regarding the legitimacy of asylum seekers has been constantly used by the Australian government, both Liberal and Labor, with very little effort being made over the last two decades to understand or address the real issues faced by people fleeing persecution in their own countries. The inefficient and unfair refugee processing system makes people feel hopeless and depressed and drives them to take drastic action in order to ensure their basic entitlements are met.

Ramesh Fernandez says “the continued victimisation of boat arrivals has to stop. The government should face the inherently flawed processing system for boat arrivals during the last decade and do something to fix this unjust treatment”.


An Iraqi asylum seeker, Ahmad, is believed to have committed suicide at Villawood detention centre around midnight Monday night.

Detainees found the man hanging in a bathroom and took him down and eye-witnesses are sure he was dead. Some people are very angry that it took 45 minutes for an ambulance to arrive.

Initial reports indicate the man, 41 years old, had a wife and four children. He had been in detention, on Christmas Island and in Villawood, for over one year.

He had been rejected twice under the off-shore processing arrangements that were found to be invalid in the recent High Court decision.

All other detainees in stage 3 have now been mustered on the soccer field. There are a large number of police in the detention centre and the atmosphere is anxious and tense, according to asylum seekers inside the detention centre.

“We are shocked and very upset,” said one detainee, “People are crying. He knew about the High Court [decision] but there is no new policy. Everyone is very tired. We wait day after day.”

“The factories of mental illness have claimed yet another victim,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

“We are devastated by this news. A number of us visited asylum seekers in Villawood on Sunday to let them know about the High Court case. The High Court decision seemed to provide a small window of hope, but for some the wait is too long and they have given up hope already.

“Incidents of self harm are becoming daily occurrences at detention centres across the country. There needs to be a full inquiry into Ahmad’s death and into mandatory detention itself. The mandatory detention system is literally killing people.

“In 2008, Labor declared that detention was a last resort but it the first and only resort for asylum seekers arriving by boat. There are other asylum seekers in Villawood who have been found to be refugees but are still waiting after 18 months. This is the second suicide in Villawood in just over two months.”



Protests inside Villawood detention centre tonight
Tom Morgan and Vincent Morello, AAP

Detainees started fires, others refused food and five people launched roof protests amid chaotic scenes at Sydney’s Villawood Detention Centre on Wednesday in the wake of an inmate’s suicide.

An immigration department spokesman confirmed a mattress had been set alight, while live footage showed chairs and garbage bins hurled onto at least two fires.

A man in his 40s was treated for unknown injuries, a NSW Ambulance spokeswoman told AAP.

Jamal Daoud, of the Social Justice Network, was outside Villawood when inmates began their protest on Wednesday afternoon.

He said scores of police were at the scene, and the centre had been put into lockdown with detainees escorted to their rooms.

“They are more angry now because they locked the detainees inside of their rooms at the moment,” Mr Daoud told AAP.

Inmates and campaigners are calling for an inquiry into the death of Ahmad Al Akabi, a 41-year-old father of three young daughters, who killed himself at the centre on Monday after being held in detention for more than a year.

His death follows that of Josefa Rauluni, a 36-year-old Fijian detainee, at Villawood in September.

Mr Daoud and members of the Iraqi community were staging a vigil outside Villawood, mourning Mr Akabi’s death, when the destruction started.

He said three spot fires had been lit but all of them had burnt out by 6pm (AEDT).

A spokesman for the immigration department later said five detainees had taken to the roof but were down by 7.40pm (AEDT).

Mr Daoud said they were distressed following the suicide.

“One of the guys on the roof was living with the guy who committed suicide, and he’s very angry at the moment …

“And the roof is damaged because they knocked off some of the tiles.”

There would be an inquiry into the protest, an immigration spokeswoman said.

Australian Greens immigration spokeswoman Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said she was concerned for the safety of the asylum seekers involved.

“Understandably the stress of long-term detention of asylum seekers has continued to build tension and frustration, coupled with the tragic events of this week,” she said.

“It is important to maintain calm and ensure everyone’s safety.”

The Greens and refugee groups have called on the federal government to take measures that ensure the safety of detainees suffering mental illness.

Refugee rights activists say 160 detainees began a hunger strike on Tuesday morning and around 22 Iranian nationals continued their strike into Wednesday.

The federal government denied there was a hunger strike, saying a handful of detainees had refused to eat out of grief.

* Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263).