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Refugee sets self on fire at Manus Island amid 'mental health crisis'

Wednesday June 12, 2019
By Rachel Eddie

Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition said 14 men who have self-harmed on Manus Island were being housed in the Shamrock compound.CREDIT:REFUGEE ACTION COALITION

A Somali refugee has set himself on fire on Manus Island, amid claims of a worsening mental health crisis at the detention centre.

The man, who is 31 according to fellow refugee Shamindan Kanapadhi, was not seriously injured on Monday morning when he set himself alight at the East Lorengau compound on the Papua New Guinean island.

Distressing photos show him doused in white foam from a fire extinguisher, his red T-shirt visibly burnt.

He was taken to the neighbouring Shamrock facility for refugees and asylum seekers who have self-harmed, according to advocate Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition.

The facility was previously accommodating guards and police, but Mr Rintoul said it now housed 14 people who have self-harmed or attempted suicide. It comes amid claims of a worsening mental health crisis since the federal election on May 18.

Pakistani refugee Samad Abdul, who is in PNG's capital, Port Moresby, said everyone had lost hope.

"We [were] never scared for our future before because hope was alive, but after May 18 every day is like a nightmare," he said.

Mr Rintoul said it was increasingly difficult to keep track of the growing number of refugees and asylum seekers self-harming. He claims there have been more than 50 instances on Manus Island since the election, or more than 70 when including those who are in Port Moresby for medical care.

Refugee Benham Satah said many of the men were "thinking about death every second".

"It's truly hard to explain it but I am sure it's more contagious than salmonella or typhoid," Mr Satah said on Monday.

Mr Rintoul claimed there was no medical care in Shamrock, which is under guard. Some men have also been sent back to their compounds after self-harming and others were at the Pacific International Hospital in Port Moresby, he said.

The Department of Home Affairs noted that the Pacific International hospital in Port Moresby has a dedicated mental health ward.

A department spokesman on Tuesday said the Australian government was working closely with PNG and Nauru to ensure the men have appropriate healthcare.

"The Australian government is committed to supporting the governments of PNG and Nauru by providing specialist and wide‑ranging health, welfare and support services."

The department did not directly respond to the recent self-harm claims or confirm Shamrock was housing some of the men.

Hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers remain in PNG, six years after being detained as "illegal" entrants to Australia.'

The Medical Evacuation Response Group, which was established to help refugees respond to the so-called "medevac laws" when they were passed in February, says more than 60 people have been transferred from PNG and Nauru to Australia since the laws passed. That includes 17 under the medical evacuation laws, while the remainder were transferred under existing arrangements.

Another eight transfers have been approved under the new provisions and are expected to be transferred imminently.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has pledged to repeal the medical evacuation laws.

The Human Rights Law Centre again called for refugees and asylum seekers to be evacuated from Manus and Nauru.

"We are seeing an increasingly dangerous situation unfolding in which men and women in the Australian government’s care are losing all hope," legal director Katie Robertson said in a statement on Tuesday.

If you or anyone you know needs support, you can contact Lifeline 131 114, or beyondblue 1300 224 636.

with AAP


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