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Female refugee sets herself on fire

Tuesday 3 May 2016 | Published in Regional

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NAURU – A 21-year-old female refugee has set herself alight on Nauru in what is the second attempted suicide by self-immolation on the island in a week.

The young Somali woman suffered critical injuries after setting herself alight on the island on Monday, the Nauruan government said.

Australia’s Immigration Department confirmed it was aware of an incident of self-immolation by a female refugee on Nauru.

“The department is supporting the government of Nauru to identify appropriate medical treatment options,” a spokesman told AAP in a statement.

The Nauruan government said the woman was being treated by four Australian doctors at the Republic of Nauru Hospital.

An emergency evacuation had been requested, it said in a statement.

Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said she had been told the woman had burns to 70 per cent of her body.

“It’s just beyond words,” she said. “How desperate does somebody have to be? How hopeless must they feel to set themselves on fire?”

Senator Hanson-Young said she had been speaking to refugees now settled on Nauru, who were distressed by the incident.

“They feel trapped and they feel hopeless and this situation just brings right back to all of them what lack of future they all have.”

The Nauru government in a statement said it was distressed that refugees were attempting “dreadful acts” to influence the Australian government’s immigration policies.

It’s the second such incident on Nauru within a week, after a 23-year-old Iranian man Omid Masoumali set himself on fire during a visit by United Nations refugee officials to the island.

He died in Brisbane Hospital on Friday.

The Nauruan government denies reports Masoumali was not provided quality care at Nauru hospital (see story below).

In its statement, the Nauruan government said it was “distressed” but suggested refugee advocates, Australian politicians and human rights lawyers were in part to blame for giving the refugees false hope.

“These actions are purely and simply being taken because they believe that political protests will influence the Australian government and possibly help them gain entry to Australia,” it said.

“Refugee advocates must stop giving refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru false hope and stirring up these protests. They are making the situation worse and must take responsibility for their actions and words.”

The Nauruan government’s statement went on to say that refugees on Nauru were given the same freedoms as its citizens but “have better facilities”.

“Refugees and asylum seekers are not distressed due to their conditions,” the statement said. “Their conditions are better than most other refugee camps across the world.”

The Refugee Action Coalition identified the female refugee injured on Monday as Hadon.

It alleges the 21-year-old was one of three refugees returned to Nauru last week, after being taken from Brisbane’s immigration transit accommodation.

The coalition alleges the refugees were “snatched” by Border Force officers in the early hours of last Wednesday morning.

“She was carried bodily out of the detention centre by Border Force officers,” the coalition said in a statement.

The advocate group said she was flown to Australia in November after suffering a head injury in a motorcycle accident on the island.

A former Australian teacher at Nauru, who once taught the victim, said she was “a kind woman, a good friend and would never harm anyone”.

“Hadon used to come to English classes at night because she was too shy to come in the normal day classes,” said the former teacher, who did not wish to be named.

“Gradually, in her gentle voice, she told us tragic pieces of her past in Somalia. She wanted to learn, she longed for a future.”

Spokesman Ian Rintoul said, “this is another self-harm attempt that is Peter Dutton’s responsibility”.

“A vulnerable young woman who needed protection was a victim of a spiteful removal. She has been sent to the toxic environment that the Minister has created on Nauru. Tragically this was entirely predictable.”

Senator Hanson-Young said there was “a tragedy unfolding on Nauru and we can’t just stand by and watch”.

“This young woman has been driven to despair by her treatment on the island. Malcolm Turnbull needs to intervene. The situation on Nauru is spiralling dangerously out of control,” she said.

“I refuse to accept that this is the best we can do. There are not just the two options of dangerous boat journeys or people burning themselves to death.

“There is a better way, where we process people’s claims for asylum where they are and then bring them to Australia safely.”

- PNC sources