, Sydney, Australia, Oct 2 – An asylum-seeker being held on one of Australia’s remote Pacific island camps was found dead Monday, rights groups said, in a suspected suicide that has once again thrown Canberra’s treatment of refugees into the spotlight.
Australia sends asylum-seekers who try to enter the country by boat to processing facilities on Nauru and on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, with those found to be refugees barred from resettling in Australia.
Conditions in the camps have been widely criticised by refugee advocates and medical professionals, with reports of widespread abuse, self-harm and mental health problems.
Sydney-based Refugee Action Coalition said Monday that a 32-year-old Tamil man from Sri Lanka took his own life at a hospital Manus Island, where he was being treated for self-harm.
It is the second apparent suicide on the island in the last two months, with an Iranian man found dead in August.
“Once again, such tragedy highlights the acute vulnerability of refugees and asylum-seekers under Australia’s ‘offshore processing’ approach, and the need for proper care,” the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement Monday.
A PNG court ruled last year that holding people on Manus was unconstitutional, and Canberra is set to shut the detention centre by the end of this month.
It has tried with little success to relocate the detainees to third countries like Cambodia, or settle them elsewhere in PNG.
Last week, a first wave of refugees departed from the Pacific camps for the US in a deal struck with Washington under former president Barack Obama.
The pact has angered President Donald Trump who has begrudgingly agreed to accept an unspecified number of people who can fulfil rigorously-vetted requirements.
But it remains unclear what will happen to those not taken by the United States.
“UNHCR has long urged that the planned closure of the Manus Island ‘Regional Processing Centre’ must only take place in the context of continued critical services,” the UN refugee body added.
Australian immigration data as of July 31 said nearly 800 men were being held on Manus, in addition to 371 men, women and children on Nauru.
Amnesty International said the latest death is the sixth related to Manus and the ninth overall attached to Australia’s offshore processing.
“This death proves, yet again, that offshore processing is untenable, and must end immediately,” Amnesty Pacific researcher Kate Schuetze said in a statement.
The Australian government Monday said it was aware of the death in Manus but directed any further queries to PNG authorities.