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Refugee sets himself on fire

Thursday 28 April 2016 | Published in Regional

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NAURU – A refugee remains in a critical condition after setting himself on fire on Nauru, in what the Nauruan Government has described as a “political protest”.

An immediate medical evacuation has been requested for the 23-year-old Iranian.

A video obtained by the ABC appears to show a man suffering burns to large portions of his body, after he set himself on fire outside the centre early Tuesday.

The incident coincided with a visit from three Canberra-based UNHCR staff, who all witnessed the man’s actions.

The ABC understands the man has been on Nauru for three years.

An Iranian woman witnessed the incident and told the ABC the man got distressed during a meeting with UNHCR staff.

“He got very angry and distressed and burnt himself,” she said.

“None of them helped. None of them called an ambulance, they just called the police and ran away.

“Doctors didn’t know what to do. They didn’t have supplies to help him.”

She said doctors have informed her the man suffered burns to 50 per cent of his body “and he might die”.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said that Australia was planning to provide an airlift for him in the evening on Wednesday.

Dutton said the man remained in a “very serious condition”.

“He is in a very, very serious condition and his outlook is not good at all,” he said.

Dutton also confirmed that there had been other incidents of self-harm at the centre.

“There have been other incidents where people have self-harmed or sought to self-harm,” he said.

“What we’ve been very clear about is that if people come to Australia for medical assistance they’ll be returning back to Nauru once that medical assistance has been provided.

“We have returned three people back to Nauru from Australia and they have returned because the medical assistance that they sought in Australia has been provided.”

UNHCR spokeswoman Catherine Stubberfield said the organisation was continuing to monitor the “seriously deteriorated mental health” of transferred asylum seekers and refugees.

She said UNHCR staff and doctors accompanying the monitoring mission attempted to help the burnt man with blankets and water, before he was taken to hospital.

“UNHCR remains concerned about the grave mental health status of a large number of asylum seekers and refugees,” Ms Stubberfield said.

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth told Lateline the man’s actions were “probably a combination of utter desperation and sending a message”.

“What does it take to self-immolate? It takes complete despair, it takes seeing a life before you which is no life.”

In a statement, the Nauruan government said the man “set himself on fire, while making a political protest to coincide with the visit by representatives from UNHCR”.

The statement also cited the influence of the refugee community on Nauru, who they state are trying to influence the immigration policies of the Australian government.

“The government of Nauru continues to urge our refugee community to refrain from such protests for the protection of themselves and others,” it stated.

Dutton made similar comments directed at refugee advocates, saying that the mixed messages to asylum seekers were “not helpful”. - ABC