The influx of immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers to Australia is placing such a strain on the country that it has opened interim housing centers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru and offered migrants money to go home. Suicide threats and self-immolation are becoming increasingly common among migrants waiting to enter the country.
“This is another distressing incident,” Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said in response to the news that a third Tamil migrant had set himself on fire. The 40-year-old man is said to have poured gas on his legs and ignited himself in a home in Melbourne. He had been awaiting an extension on his temporary visa.
The incident followed a similar incident two days prior, when a 29-year-old died after committing self-immolation in Melbourne, as well. That man, Leo Seemanpillai, had been waiting more than a year for a determination on his refugee status after fleeing Sri Lanka. He was diagnosed as depressed, and Morrison told the press that “there was no indication” he would be sent back to Sri Lanka.
A similar incident occurred in April with an unnamed man, who survived burning 75% of his body.
The events are prompting a national conversation on the treatment of immigrants and asylum-seekers in Australia. According to the Herald Sun, while self-immolation remains uncommon, many workers at immigration centers report that those waiting for news on their migrant status are often depressed and contemplate suicide. The paper reports that the number of asylum-seekers threatening physical harm at aid centers for migrants has increased five-fold. Asylum Seeker Resource Centre CEO Kon Karapanagiotidis told the paper that he hears stories of migrants threatening suicide “on a weekly basis.” He explained, “The reason why is because (this) is a community with a deep sense of fear of being returned home to torture and harm, a community in great crisis, a community left in limbo with no hope.”
The Australian government, currently working to remedy a federal budget crisis, is attempting to reduce the number of migrants and refugees seeking permanent residence in the country. This has led them to open centers in which migrants must live before their immigration status becomes official, many cramped and overpopulated, in nearby Papua New Guinea. Human rights groups have flagged the immigration centers as potentially problematic; interviews with children that the Australian Human Rights Commission conducted there found that the children, who were very unhappy, described the place as “hell” and were demanding to leave.