A REFUGEE from the persecuted Muslim Rohingya minority of Burma (Myanmar) has died on a remote Manus Island in Papua New Guinea in what was an apparent suicide, officials said Tuesday.
“My condolences to the immediate family,” said Manus province police commander David Yapu as quoted by the Australian national broadcaster ABC News, stating that police were speaking to other refugees that had witnessed the “very unfortunate situation”.
The man is thought to have died after jumping from a bus while travelling from refugee accommodation into the island’s main town. “This is something that we were all caught by surprise,” added Yapu.
Australia’s home affairs department confirmed the death but did not provide further details.
Canberra has sent asylum-seekers who try to enter the country by boat to camps on PNG’s Manus Island or Nauru in the Pacific for processing, with those found to be refugees barred from resettling in Australia.
The harsh policy is meant to deter people embarking on treacherous sea journeys, but the United Nations and other rights groups have criticised the camps’ conditions and long detention periods. According to ABC News, he is the seventh person sent by Australia to Manus who has died.
The Refugee Action Coalition’s Ian Rintoul told AFP the man, a 52-year-old called Salim, was believed to have jumped from a moving bus near a refugee transition centre and was struck by its wheels, dying at the scene.
Most asylum-seekers on Manus believed the man’s death was a suicide, according to a statement from the coalition.“The Rohingyan refugee had suffered for a long time with a medical problem” and had previously been sent to Australia for treatment, Rintoul added.
“A middle-aged Rohingya man died earlier today, this is a tragedy,” the Melbourne-based Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s Jana Favero told The Guardian. “The ASRC took a trip to Manus Island last year and met this man and then his physical and mental health conditions were evident, and since that time have significantly deteriorated.”
“This is a man who has been robbed of hope by being detained for nearly five years by the Australia government in offshore processing,” Favero added.
A statement from the UN refugee agency said that it was “profoundly saddened” by Salim’s death, stating that it showed the need for “proper care and immediate solutions”.
— UNHCR Canberra (@UNHCRCanberra) May 22, 2018
“With the passage of too many years and the withdrawal or reduction of essential services, the already critical situation for refugees most in need continues to deteriorate,” the UNHCR’s regional representative Nai Jit Lam said.
“Australia’s responsibility for those who have sought its protection remains unchanged. Our thoughts and condolences are with the man’s family today.”
The UNHCR urged Australia to take action to provide assistance and solutions to “avert further harm and tragedy”, as support was desperately needed for refugees and asylum seekers on both Manus Island and Nauru.
Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian refugee on Manus, tweeted Tuesday that Salim had epilepsy and was “suffering for a long time”.
Previous deaths on Manus include an Iranian refugee found hanging from a tree near a school in August last year, and a Sri Lankan Tamil asylum-seeker who reportedly committed suicide at a hospital two months later.
The Australian camp on Manus was shut late last year after a PNG court ruled it was unconstitutional, with the 600 detainees sent to three transition centres. Canberra has sought to offload those recognised as refugees to third countries such as the US, and more than a hundred have been resettled there, according to reports.
But hundreds of others remain on Manus, saying they feared for their safety amid hostility from the local population, and that their basic needs such as healthcare were not being met.
“Nearly five years after Australia began implementing its harmful and illegal offshore detention policy, the situation for refugees and asylum seekers trapped in PNG is as desperate as ever. Rolling back healthcare at this time is making a grave situation even worse,” said Kate Schuetze, Refugee Researcher at Amnesty International in a statement last week.
“Last year two refugees committed suicide in Manus Island, illustrating the terrible price of confining vulnerable people to remote detention centres.”
Additional reporting from AFP.