26 Jan 2019

Man dies at detention centre where New Zealanders are on hunger protest

8:12 am on 26 January 2019

A man has taken his own life at Sydney's Villawood Detention Centre, where detainees have been on a hunger protest for what they say is their unjust incarceration.

Steel fences surround the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre for refugees in Sydney.

The Villawood Immigration Detention Centre for refugees in Sydney. Photo: AFP

Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition confirmed to RNZ that a man had died, and that he had been one of those refusing meals.

"It's an absolute tragedy that there should be another death. There's been so many offshore and so many onshore and this is just going to add to the list of victims of mandatory detention in Australia."

Detainee Ali Yousuf, who's being held at Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation facility, said that just before the suicide, the young man had a meeting with immigration officials who said he would be deported.

"It was an African bloke, a young bloke," he said.

"He was seen by immigration and refused a visa. He wanted just to return to his family but they didn't let him, they wanted to deport him ... next week. And he killed himself."

The Australian Border Force confirmed the death and expressed condolences to the man's family and friends.

The matter has now been referred for investigation by appropriate agencies including the New South Wales coroner.

New Zealanders make up a large portion of detainees refusing meals at detention centres in Perth, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.

Some are now entering their 12th day with little or no food.

Australian authorities deny there is a mass hunger strike taking place.

RNZ approached the office of Immigration Minister David Coleman on Tuesday for comment, but is yet to receive a reply.

Earlier this week, Robin Leota told RNZ that the hunger protest was starting to take a toll.

"I'm a bit depleted, tired. Especially with this heat; it's getting to be 45 degrees Celsius out here."

Mr Leota, who's originally from Mangere in South Auckland, served a two-year prison sentence for drug-related offending and was subsequently sent to the Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre on the outskirts of Perth.

Police were deployed to the Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre in West Australia.

Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre on the outskirts of Perth. Photo: Google Maps

His wife and children are in Brisbane and he said they could not just pack up and go back to New Zealand.

He has not been able to see them since April last year, when he was sent the 4300km to Western Australia.

"This is double jeopardy. We've already done our time in jail and now we're being put into a detention centre without a release date.

"Some people haven't even done a crime and they're in there."

He had been drinking some milk and having one protein shake a day but no solid food.

"It's just starting to take a toll being away from our families and stuff. Like, they're moving us into the middle of the desert up here in Perth. I'm from Brisbane but we've got people from Sydney in here, from Melbourne," Mr Leota said.

"They're systematically separating us from our families so we can't get any visits."

The detainees' list of grievances included what they call the unaccountable use of force by security officials; the arbitrary nature of their punishment; and the apparently indefinite powers of the government to keep them locked up.

There are about 350 detainees at the Yongah Hill facility, about 50 of whom are New Zealanders.

About 400 people are being held at the Sydney detention centre and 100 at each of the Melbourne and Brisbane facilities.

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

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Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

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