A refugee at the Manus Island offshore detention centre set himself on fire yesterday. The Somalian man, aged about 30, set himself ablaze while in the East Lorengau transit camp, according to SBS. The incident is the latest in a disturbing spike of self-harm incidents on the Island, with sources claiming there have been more than 70 suicide or self-harm incidents by about 50 asylum seekers since the Australian federal election on May 18th.
The man was quickly extinguished and briefly hospitalised at a nearby clinic, where he was treated for his burns before being discharged. Images posted to social media showed him lying on the floor, covered in white fire retardant chemicals, with damage to his upper body. While it is understood that his injuries are not life-threatening, he is reportedly not receiving doctor's visits despite his condition and remains under guard by Paladin private security officers. He has been described as "highly depressed".
A self-harm crisis has spiralled out of control on Manus Island in the wake of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s recent reelection. In the 24 days since Morrison’s conservative government were announced as having retained the leadership, dozens of asylum seekers have self-harmed or attempted suicide—at one point exceeding the capacity of the local Lorengau hospital. It’s thought that the recent surge is the result of people losing hope of resettlement following the government’s reelection—with many of the belief that they now face another three years in detention under the incumbent Coalition.
“Many among us no longer want to live,” refugee Shamindan Kanapadhi wrote on Facebook this morning. “Without any indication of safe resettlement, we struggle to spend a minute on this remote island. A minute becomes a year for us.”
While the Labor opposition had pledged to accept New Zealand’s offer of resettling 150 refugees from Manus Island and Nauru, and suggested they would find a third country to accept more, the Morrison government has steadfastly refused the deal and declared that they intend to cap Australia’s refugee intake. A bilateral deal between Australia and the United States to resettle 1,200 refugees has also slowed considerably, reportedly fuelling despondency.
“The pain they suffer is unbearable and each time we witness an attempt at suicide or self harm, we are devastated,” Shamindan continued. “If we continue to watch our friends innocent of any crime other than to seek refuge self harm, we too will break… We have lost many of our brothers and we can't bear to lose anymore.
“We are pleading with the Australian Government to show some compassion and empathy towards these innocent men and allow them to receive proper treatment.”
This weekend’s incident comes just seven days after another Somali refugee attempted to hang himself from a balcony and a 31-year-old Iranian refugee inflicted severe self-harm. Days earlier, local police stepped up their patrols around the perimeter of the refugee camps in an attempt to stop more suicide attempts, and the local hospital was “still under strain, unable to cope with the increase in refugee cases”, according to Refugee Action Coalition.
Refugee advocate Ian Rintoul has called on the Australian government to find an urgent solution to the escalating self-harm crisis, Studio 10 reports.
"[The government] has no resettlement program, the U.S. deal is almost finished, the people accept there is no other resettlement places," he said. "People on Manus and Nauru are languishing without hope."
Katie Robertson, legal director at the Human Rights Law Centre, has described the situation on Manus as an "unprecedented medical crisis", saying it was solely Australia's responsibility to deal with it.
"What we are seeing is the result of six long years of an extremely punitive and cruel policy in which the Australian Government has deliberately and consistently denied refugees essential and critical medical care," Katie said. "The Australian Government has, and has always had, the power—and indeed the legal obligation—to transfer refugees in its care to Australia for critical medical treatment."
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