By John Moyle
Deep inside Villawood Immigration Detention Centre last Friday night, a 33-year-old man died by his own hands while he was on suicide watch.
A statement to City Hub from the Department of Home Affairs on Monday acknowledged the death and concluded by saying, “This matter has been referred for investigation by appropriate agencies, including the NSW Coroner”.
The man, called Musa, was from Sierra Leone and had been in detention on a humanitarian visa for a little over three years.
He had been diagnosed with psychiatric problems early on and had recently been admitted to Liverpool Hospital.
Hospital inmate handcuffed
While the hospital declined to comment due to patient confidentiality, it is believed that he was being treated for his psychiatric issues and had been released back to Villawood two days before he committed suicide.
Ian Rintoul, spokesperson with the Refugee Action Group, said, “I believe that Musa was in Liverpool Hospital for a week and two days, and there is reason to believe that he was handcuffed.”
Dr Barri Phatarfod, spokesperson for Doctors 4 Refugees, said, “The problem is that the Department of Home Affairs doesn’t want people indefinitely in hospitals, and you can discharge a patient when they no longer need intramuscular or intravenous medication when they can be released into a home setting. The thing is that Villawood is not a home environment and he is back in the same environment where he has previously self-harmed”.
Musa’s suicide came after a visit from Border Force personnel informing him that he was being returned to Sierra Leone, which is still recovering from an 11-year-civil war that left over 50,000 dead and the economy in ruin.
“Border Force are not qualified to tell individuals the outcome or likely outcome that they are going to be deported,” Dr Phatarfod said.
“Some of these Border Force and Serco officers are really punch drunk, and they do not realise the impact that their words can have, or if they do that is the designed purpose.”
When news of Musa’s death broke, detainees were mustered out of the Mitchell Compound, where he died, and immediately began confronting the guards.
“There were some clashes at the time and some later in the night, with three people being arrested in the early hours of Saturday morning and held in high security,” Ian Rintoul said.
A 38-second of the scuffles is posted on the Facebook page 501 Serco and ERT.
While both Dr Phatarfod and Ian Rintoul say that a Royal Commission is needed, it cannot deal with the immediate problem.
In the year from March 2015 to 2016, there were over 750 self-harm incidents reported from a detainee population of around 3,500.
“Musa’s death highlights why it is an urgent matter for the government to address as there is no question that the detention centres have become much more militarised,” Ian Rintoul said.
A memorial for Musa is planned for next week, with details to be posted on the Refugee Action Coalition website.
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