Iraqi detainee dies at Australian immigration detention centre after four suicide attempts

A 22-year-old Iraqi man has died in hospital after taking his life at the Yongah Hill immigration detention centre in Australia on 6 September 2018, where he was in custody for less than a year.

Sarwan Aljhelie had attempted suicide three times before, and on his fourth attempt, was eventually declared brain dead in hospital. His suicide sparked protests in the immigration detention centre in Western Australia, and led to a fire that destroyed the compound.

The incident has sparked criticism from detainees, family members and advocates on the treatment of those detained in these centres.

According to a report by the Guardian, Aljhelie’s visa was revoked when he got in trouble with drugs and the law. He had arrived in Australia eight years ago on a family reunification visa, where his parents, siblings, wife and children still reside.

His family told the Guardian that after previous suicide attempts, authorities put him back in the same cell instead of providing him with psychiatric support. “I have a message from his friends saying the guards were laughing at him, saying you’re too weak to do it,” his brother said. He was also allegedly told he would be “raped if he didn’t behave.”

A review conducted by the Human Rights Commission in 2017 said there was “significant level of concern about the standard of physical health care provided at the [Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre] YHIDC and the impact of detention on mental health.”

Facility staff reported that the limited range of services and limited hours “could place significant pressure on staff, who support a large number of people with complex and chronic health conditions.”

The fire has now left detainees in worse living conditions. According to the Guardian, after the fire, dozens of men were pictured and filmed handcuffed, and around 150 sleeping on the floor of the dining room. An unknown but significant number of men were also moved to an offshore processing centre on Christmas Island.

On 8 September, Aljhelie’s roommate attempted to take his own life.

Aljhelie’s family now plans to sue the Australian government over their son’s death.

In a statement, the Australian Border Force said, “The matter will be referred to the state coroner for investigation. The Department and Australian Border Force will provide all necessary assistance to the investigation.”

TMP – 26/09/2018

Photo credit: https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/Photo caption: The Yongah Hills Immigration Detention Centre.

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