SUICIDE MARKS FIJIAN PLIGHT AT AUSSIE DETENTION CAMP

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Others languish, threaten to follow suit

SUVA, Fiji (Fijilive, Sept. 21, 2010) - An Australian refugee advocate says she has spoken to Villawood Detention Centre inmates who witnessed the death of a Fijian man who jumped off the roof of the center yesterday morning.

A police investigation is continuing into the death of 36-year-old Josefa Rauluni, who apparently committed suicide just hours before he was due to be deported.

In a letter obtained by the ABC, Rauluni said he would rather die than be forced to return to Fiji.

[PIR editor’s note: Villawood Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) is an Australian immigration detention facility located in the suburb of Villawood in Sydney, Australia.]

Tensions are still high at the center this morning, with 11 inmates continuing an overnight rooftop protest and threatening to jump off if their cases are not reviewed by the department.

The men are displaying a banner reading: "We need help and freedom" and say they will not come down until the Immigration Department agrees to an independent review of their applications for asylum.

Refugee advocate Brami Jagen has spoken with some of the inmates who witnessed the man’s death.

"The first person I spoke to, he was a babbling mess and just ended up crying and wasn’t able to say anything other than ‘I saw it, I saw it, I saw it’ and just kept bawling his eyes out," she said.

"The second time I called it was a different person, as soon as he heard my voice he started sobbing and saying ‘He’s dead, he’s dead, why are they doing this to us?"

Jagen had been at Villawood the day before Rauluni’s death and had spoken to detainees from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Iraq. She said tensions were already high.

"Apparently they had a visit from an Immigration official earlier in the week, who said that given that the situation in countries - and he named a few countries - was getting better, or was better, they could expect that some of them or more of them could be sent home," she said.

"This had kept them in a real heightened state of anxiety. Two of the guys from Afghanistan that we ... met with, they were just bawling their eyes out because they were so upset and scared.

"The mood then kind of escalated when they saw this young man die."

Immigration spokesman Sandi Logan says staff and inmates who witnessed the man’s death have been offered counseling.

"We have provided, for the detainees, counseling assistance," he said. "We have on staff, of course, health professionals through the health services provider, including trauma and torture counseling."

Australian of the Year and mental health expert Professor Patrick McGorry said the death highlights the need for a complete overhaul of detention policies.

"I think this underscores the need for a major bipartisan review of our approach to managing asylum seekers and the whole process of mandatory detention," he said.

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