An asylum seeker who set fire to himself and his room at Manus Island detention centre will be charged with attempted suicide and arson. The incident took place on Friday at Hillside Haus, an accommodation block housing hundreds of men whose asylum claims have been rejected, The Guardian reports. The man, 30-year-old Indian national Ravinder Singh, was initially treated for burns to his face and hands before being taken to the police station and then Port Moresby for further medical treatment. Inspector David Yapu, chief of Manus police, said that “as soon as he returns back to Manus Island, police will have him charged accordingly.”
“He admitted setting fire in his own room to burn himself,” Yapu said. “He spent a night in police custody and was to be charged for arson and attempted suicide but on the next day he was ‘medevacced’ to Port Moresby for further medical treatment.”
A charge of attempted suicide—considered a misdemeanour in Papua New Guinea—could see Ravinder facing a year in prison, according to the local criminal code. A charge of arson could get him locked up for life.
It’s understood that Ravinder had been refused proper treatment at Manus Island’s Pacific International hospital clinic, in the town of Lorengau, prior to the incident, and responded by locking himself in his room and setting it alight. His friend, Manjit Singh, who is detained at the same facility, told SBS that Ravinder had been in pain for months and received only minimal attention.
“He kept asking for medical treatment for his back and shoulder pain for four… five months now but they would just keep giving him painkillers and not proper treatment,” Manjit said. "He even struggled to walk." SBS further reported that Ravinder admitted he lit the fire because he was angry "over not being given any treatment".
Three other fires have been deliberately lit at the accommodation blocks in recent times—a growing trend that Yapu has described as “frustrating”.
“Those buildings cost government a lot of money to build to accommodate the refugees and non-refugees,” he said, “and they should look after them until such time they leave PNG and resettle in the third country.”
This is also just one recent incident in a horrific spate of self-harm and suicide attempts that have taken place on the Island over the past month. Shamindan Kanapathi, a refugee who has been detained on Manus for six years, stated last week that there have been more than 90 attempted suicides and more than 62 incidents of self-harm since the Australian election on May 18th. Among them was a 30-year-old Somalian man who also set himself on fire on June 10th.
It is a situation that Katie Robertson, legal director at the Human Rights Law Centre, has described as an "unprecedented medical crisis"—further noting that it was solely Australia's responsibility to deal with.
"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," she 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."
Contrarily, however, the Australian Government has pledged to overturn the so-called “medevac” legislation, which allows people in offshore processing centres like Manus to be transferred to Australia for medical or psychiatric assistance. Last week, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said that the medevac bill "may have applicability to many hundreds of people, which has certainly the potential to restart boats and that would be a travesty".
Ian Rintoul, a spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition, meanwhile noted that "while the Home Affairs Minister spends his time arguing to repeal the medevac bill, the situation on Manus spins out of control. Rather than point the finger at 'advocate doctors', he should be getting those who need help off Manus and Nauru."
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