The 36-year-old’s death at Sydney’s Villawood detention centre sparked a rooftop protest yesterday by about eight other asylum seekers whose refugee claims have also reportedly been rejected.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says the Fijian had been living in the community while his claim was being processed but was detained last month for removal purposes once those processes were completed.
Refugee advocate Sara Nathan says the seven Sri Lankan Tamils and one Afghan detainee climbed onto the roof saying they’d take their own lives rather than be deported.
The 36-year-old’s death in Sydney’s Villawood detention centre on Monday morning sparked a rooftop protest by up to eight more asylum seekers who allegedly have had their claims rejected by Australia.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the Fijian, who had arrived in Australia by plane, had been living in the community while his refugee claim was processed.
“He was detained (in mid-August) for removal purposes once those processes were completed,” Mr Bowen said.
“His removal was part of normal compliance operations.”
Immigration Department spokesman Sandi Logan was asked about allegations Villawood staff had been warned that the Fijian was suicidal after being told recently he was to be deported.
“We understand that there, certainly, is some history behind this client,” Mr Logan told reporters in Canberra.
“There is a history in the department … of several instances of non-compliance and, unfortunately, that’s why this man was in detention.
“He was awaiting removal from Australia.”
Mr Logan said he could not comment on reports that the man was about to blow the whistle on a Fijian passport scam.
“(That) must remain confidential,” he said.
Refugee advocate Sara Nathan told AAP seven Sri Lankan Tamils and one Afghan detainee climbed onto the Villawood detention centre’s roof following the Fijian’s death.
All have had their asylum claims rejected, Ms Nathan said.
“They are very fearful that they will be deported, and they have also clearly said that rather than be deported they will take their lives,” she said.
Ms Nathan said the detainees would only come down if the Immigration Department assured them their cases would be reviewed.
Mr Logan said detainees protesting on centre roofs was not uncommon.
He said there were just five people on Villawood’s roof on Monday afternoon, of varying nationalities, and he was “reasonably confident” they would come down after negotiations.
The department spokesman rejected any suggestion Villawood was now in “chaos”.
“Some in the refugee activist and refugee advocacy community would will upon us, unfortunately, the most appalling outcomes,” he said.
“(But) we have very good control of all of our immigration detention centres.”
Mr Logan’s comments were, in part, directed at Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul, who claims the dead Fijian faced deportation along with a younger relative believed to be his nephew.
“The suicide of a Fijian man facing deportation from the Villawood detention centre this morning has thrown the detention centre into chaos,” Mr Rintoul said.
“One report from inside the detention centre said the Fijian man’s relative had been handcuffed and taken away by police.”
The Immigration Department refused to comment on reports the 36-year-old had been declared a refugee by the United Nations.
“But, generally speaking, a UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) mandate as a refugee is taken into account in processing, but it’s not necessarily a foregone conclusion that a visa will be granted,” a departmental spokesman said.
“We have to go through our own processes.”
The man died at the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre at about 10am (AEST) on Monday.