Sri Lankan Asylum Seeker Dies After Setting Self on Fire; Australia Immigration Policy in Spotlight

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By Reissa Su | June 4, 2014 1:18 PM EST

A Sri Lankan asylum seeker who was staying in one of Australia's detention centres has set himself on fire. He burned 90 per cent of his body and died soon after from his injuries. According to reports, the 29-year-old Leo Seemanpillai is the second asylum seeker from Sri Lanka who has resorted to setting himself on fire while detained in Australia.

(REUTERS/Sri Lankan President'
Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott (L), who is currently in Sri Lanka to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2013, gives Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa a signed Australian Rugby Union jersey in Colombo, November 17, 2013. (REUTERS/Sri Lankan President's Office/Handout via Reuters)

According to the Tamil Refugee Council, the asylum seeker had burned himself on the evening of May 31 and died in Alfred Hospital in the morning of June 1.

Seemanpillai had arrived in Darwin, Australia, via boat in January 2013. Based on assessments, he was reportedly suffering from depression for over a year. The Sri Lankan was held detained on a bridging visa with work rights. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said his refugee status was still being processed.

Morrison said he doesn't think anyone is in the position to jump into conclusions about what has been going on in Seemanpillai's mind when he burned himself. The minister said the asylum seeker had been receiving "mental health work assistance" fortnightly.

The Guardian reported that Aran Mylvaganam from the Tamil Refugee Council was with Seemanpillai when he died on his bed. He said the detained asylum seeker had been waiting for over 18 months for their refugee claim to be granted. Mylvaganam said the Sri Lankan's mental state finally got the best of him.

Mylvaganam said the asylum seeker was afraid to return to Sri Lanka for fear of persecution from the Sri Lankan military. He said many Tamil asylum seekers would prefer dying in Australia than being sent back to their homeland's "torture chamber."

Over 1,000 Sri Lankan asylum seekers were deported by Australia to Sri Lanka in recent years. Australia's immigration minister had previously warned Sri Lankan asylum seekers that those who planned to enter the country by boat will be sent back.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the asylum seeker's death only highlights the "failure" of Australia's immigration system. She said that the country failed the man who came to escape persecution. She added that the Abbott government should ensure the incident does not happen again. 

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(Photo: (REUTERS/Sri Lankan President' / )
Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott (L), who is currently in Sri Lanka to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2013, gives Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa a signed Australian Rugby Union jersey in Colombo, November 17, 2013. (REUTERS/Sri Lankan President's Office/Handout via Reuters)
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