'Lost Cause' Tamil Refugee On Suicide Watch


Refugee advocates say a Tamil man in his early 30s was taken to Royal Melbourne hospital this week after security guards thwarted a planned suicide attempt at the Broadmeadows detention centre. He was later transferred to the psychiatric unit of a suburban hospital.

A spokesperson for the Department of Immigration denies the event occurred, but Tamil Refugee Council spokesperson, Aran Mylvaganam, says he spoke to the man in his hospital ward via mobile phone yesterday.

The same man tried to end his life in May last year. He has been locked away for almost four years even though he was granted refugee status soon after arriving here in mid-2009. He is under indefinite detainment because of a negative ASIO report, the reasons for which cannot be disclosed because of secrecy provisions in the ASIO Act. 

On the first attempt he was close to death when a fellow detainee discovered him hanging by the neck from a rope in his room. He was rushed to hospital unconscious and with a weak pulse. This time the security guards discovered him in his room with a rope, as he was about to try to hang himself again, and were able to stop it.

Friends and fellow inmates say the man, who suffered partial loss of a foot when he stepped on a landmine in Sri Lanka, has been irreparably damaged psychologically by being detained for so long without hope. He has a wife and children back in Sri Lanka. But he has told friends that living in this legal blackhole is no life at all, and he would rather be dead.

As the first Tamil refugee to be branded with a negative ASIO report, he is sadly emblematic of a problem that the Australian Government refuses to solve through applying the basic tenets of humanity and morality.

Even though the Immigration Minister has the power to release all of the 50 or so negative ASIO cases into the community, the Federal Government pretends that it couldn't possibly go against the greater demands of national security. The fact that these ASIO reports suggest national security is threatened unless these people are locked away is a nonsense. (They could easily be released into the community with electronic tags or similar strict oversight). However, politicians know the danger argument resonates among the large percentage of voters with little interest or understanding of the complex refugee issue.

It is becoming clear that ASIO's assessments may be compromised by intelligence gathered from other sources, such as the obvious enemy of these refugees, the Sri Lankan Government — so much so, that the agency doesn't want to admit it might be wrong. As Professor Ben Saul, head of International Law at the University of Sydney, has written here at New Matilda, ASIO fears that other countries that share information with it may not be so willing to do so if any of it becomes public.

A few refugees have recently begun to have parts of their ASIO reports independently reviewed by a judge, who was appointed by Nicola Roxon after the controversial case M47 v the Director-General of Security & Others late last year.

According to reliable sources, one man was told that his report contained information he was training with the Tamil Tigers at a time he says he can prove, if given the chance, he was studying at university a long way from the supposed training ground and battlefield.

The indefinite incarceration of men, women and children who have suffered so much before arriving here is one of the most unconscionable policies by any government, let alone one that proclaims itself as the champion of the underdog.

It is a racist policy. I say racist because I am convinced that there is no way this callous, inhumane treatment would be dealt out to white, Anglo-Saxons. If it was, there would be an outcry. But the government knows that it can maintain its stance as these people are seen by large sections of the community as inferior and undeserving because they are not like us. Added to this is the falsehood happily spread by politicians, and consumed by gullible citizens, that they are "illegal queue jumpers".

I visit many of the negative ASIO cases regularly. Recently I sat with three Tamil women and their seven children in Villawood detention centre. They told me heart-wrenching stories of their attempts to flee the terror of war after their husbands were killed. One, whose husband was a Tamil Tiger blown up in an air raid, spent six months sleeping by the side of the road, and dodging bombs and shells, with her six-month-old baby. Eventually she made it to Australia, where she thought she and her child, now four, would be safe. But they are still being terrorised by their indefinite detention, now into its fourth year.

Another woman told me that her two children, aged nine and seven, were being bullied at school because the other kids know they live in a detention centre. They were coming home depressed, angry and crying, and asking their mother when they were going to get out of jail.

Doctors have warned this is the beginning of the psychological trauma that leads to depression and suicide in later years. This trauma caused one refugee to take steps to try to end his life this week. It has also done irreparable damage to others, including another Tamil refugee in his late 30s who has made at least three suicide attempts.

"It doesn't really matter if this man gets out or not anymore," said Aran Mylvaganam. "His mind is so shattered by his years in detention that he will eventually succeed in killing himself. He's been turned into a lost cause."

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