Fijian dies in Australian immigration detention centre | Pacific Beat

Fijian dies in Australian immigration detention centre

Fijian dies in Australian immigration detention centre

Updated 15 February 2012, 13:12 AEDT

A Fijian man has died at Sydney's Villawood detention centre as he was being readied for deportation.

Fiji democracy activists say he didn't want to return to the island nation, which has been run by a military government since a coup in 2006. They say he had been threatening to commit suicide if he was returned, but efforts to mediate with the Immigration Department failed.

Fiji democracy activist Usaia Waqatairewa says the dead man is 36 year old Josefa Rauluni, who had written to him saying he would rather die than return to Fiji while the country is under military rule. He says he had been pleading with immigration authorities to handle the case sensitively, and he's upset they didn't listen.

Presenter: Bruce Hill

Fiji democracy activist Usaia Waqatairewa; Fijian church minister who works with asylum seekers in Australia. Pastor Livai Leone; Greens Party state senator in New South Wales, Lee Rhiannon

WAQATAIREWA: Because they have rang him and said they will be deporting him back to Fiji this morning and he said to me that he would rather die than go back.

HILL: And you actually spoke to him this morning as they were getting him ready for deportation I understand?

WAQATAIREWA: Eh, yes twice this morning. They said they were here they were trying to get him and they tried calling those people, the numbers, I can't because they wouldn't allow me. They trying to take me now and I said, what you doing? and he said should I jump, should I jump, and I said look, I don't t think that you should do that. It's not worth it and then he said well, they are trying to take me and all I wanted to do I want to stay here until democracy restored in Fiji. I don't want to stay here permanently and that's all I have been asking the Immigration Department. They put me onto a lady and I said, listen this guy sounds like he is suicidal. He is threatening to jump. How seriously are they going to take this and they said well, we're just doing our job.

HILL: A letter written by the dead man to the authorities has been obtained by Pacific Beat. In it, Mr Rauluni pleads with the Australian government to allow him to stay until Fiji is returned to democracy. His words are read by an actor.

RAULUNI PLEA READ OUT BY ACTOR: I am not seeking citizenship or PR status. All that I am seeking is the permission to stay here until after the next general election in Fiji's done and over with and a new government elected is in power. If you check your records there, you will find the number of Fijian citizens in Australia seeking protection from your government. We Pacific Islanders look up to Australia as the keeper of the Pacific and this is why we believe in you to offer us a life line.

HILL: Mr Raulini's death could prompt more such incidents, according to a Fijian church minister who works with Fijian asylum seekers in Australia. Pastor Livai Leone, who supports Fijians seeking temporary protection visas to avoid returning to the country, says Mr Rauluni's death at the Villawood Detention Centre will hit the Fijian community hard. He says Mr Rauluni was arrested along with his nephew, who is now also in detention awaiting deportation, and he's concerned about his psychological well-being.

PASTOR LEONE: He was arrested here at Griffith with his nephew. Apparently, he called me and he wants to wait for his case outside detention, but they did not allow that to happen.

HILL: Were you surprised that he has apparently killed himself?

PASTOR LEONE: Yes, that should not happen to a human being. It is really upsetting, the whole community is very upset about this. Well, it is going to happen, it's going to keep happening, because no-one wants to go back to Fiji under military rule, who wants to go there there's nothing there.

HILL: This man's cousin is still in detention awaiting deportation?

PASTOR LEONE: I just went to talk to him about five, ten minutes ago and he was very distressed. He has got to get out of there, otherwise he will do it, because he is very, very upset and was crying like a baby and I promise him I will shoot back to Sydney and come see him tomorrow or first thing Wednesday morning. This should not happen sir.

HILL: Has he been able to see his uncle's body?

PASTOR LEONE: No, they stopped him from seeing him. The body is still in detention according to him. They don't allow him to see it, the body.

HILL: Why was this guy so bound and determined to stay in Australia and not be returned to Fiji?

PASTOR LEONE: You know what is happening in Fiji, everybody knows. This is the beginning of a very upsetting and traumatising exercise here, for Fijians who are trying to stay here as refugees.

HILL: And you were saying that there are other Fijians in detention who might do something similar rather than go back to Fiji?

PASTOR LEONE: I believe so if this carries on.

HILL: Fiji Democracy activist Usaia Waqatairewa blames the immigration system for what's happened, labelling it rigid and lacking in compassion.

WAQATAIREWA: I don't know. It's the whole system that's failed, because you've got private security guards there, as security guards, they are probably not given any discretion to make a choice. Maybe they need to be better trained to be able to detect when a person has crossed over the border and is really being serious about jumping off. There is a total lack of sympathy and empathy all round and the system is totally collapsed, because here I am ringing around trying to get somebody to go there and stop it and nothing happened.

HILL: A Greens Party state senator in New South Wales, Lee Rhiannon, has seen conditions at the Villawood Detention Centre first hand, and she wants to see a complete change in the government's approach to asylum seekers.

RHIANNON: This tragic incident further underlines the federal government's policy on refugees is not working. Yesterday a number of union representatives, I was at Villawood Detention Centre and the distress was extreme amongst the detainees. So many of them have given up hope that Australia is taking their cases seriously. They feel in many instances that if they are forcibly returned to their country, that they will be killed and this distress is now running through the Villawood Detention Centre and the news this morning that a young man has jumped to his death is further underlines the problems that is occurring at that centre and the Greens believe across the country with regard to how the government is handling refugees.

Reporter: What would you like to see happen in the wake of this incident in terms of moves from the government?

RHIANNON: The government needs to abide by its international treaty obligations with regards to people seeking asylum in Australia. People should be processed quickly and humanely and on the mainland as many of those people can be processed within the community at reception centres. Many other countries are able to do this and manage the application of refugees in the appropriate way without leading to these terrible mental health consequences.


Contact the studio

Got something to say about what you're hearing on the radio right now?

Send your texts to +61 427 72 72 72

Add the hashtag #raonair to add your tweets to the conversation.

Email us your thoughts on an issue. Messages may be used on air.