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Another Villawood death

Villawood’s prison like fortress. Photo: The Conversation


Another young man, Milad El Jabieri, died in Villawood Detention Centre on Monday 4 March 2019. He was from Iraq. He had a “cousin” in Sydney.

Milad El Jabiri and his family member had been refugees together since 5 years of age but had become estranged over time.

Refugee advocate Fabia Claridge, with whom Milad lived for eight months, said it was clear that whatever problems he had, he was very lovingly and carefully raised.

“It is very hard to imagine the distress of a mother who has not seen her beloved son for over a decade,” she added. “Imagine that it was your son dead by his own hand in a strange country. I cannot imagine the agony.”

Milad’s body may be returned to Iraq to meet with family custom … but the dangers of relatives briefly leaving and re-entering Australia as refugees are many, as in the case of footballer Hakeen Al Araibi.

Addiction and mental illness

Milad had attempted suicide when previously in Villawood. Addiction and mental illness were a part of his final weeks. Other Villawood detainees housed in the LaTrobe Section observed that he had hardly left his room.

He had been to court at 2pm on the day of his death.

Milad is not the first and he will not be the last.

In late January, a man from Sierra Leone called Musa also died in Villawood under similar circumstances.

In each case, refugee advocates heard about it before the police did.

And before that … there was a death (of Sarwan Aljhelie) at Yongah Hill Detention Centre near Perth.

Another man in Villawood attempted suicide within 30 hours of Milad’s death.

A 27-year-old Afghan asylum seeker has been taken to hospital following his attempt to hang himself in the high security Blaxland compound of the Villawood Detention Centre (Thursday 7 March).

He was found around 5.00 am. His present condition is unknown.

He has been held in detention since 2012.

“The terrible toll of indefinite detention cannot be ignored any longer. The government is deliberately using immigration detention to inflict extra-judicial penalties. The suicides and attempted suicides that we are seeing in detention are the inevitable consequences of those policies,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

In 2015, a quarter of all detainees attempted self-harm. In a place like Villawood, that would mean that more than one hundred took that step.

Protests in the MITA and Yongah Hill detention centres against long-term detention and the arbitrary ministerial powers have been continuing for over 50 days. Milad had been part of the 2010 rooftop protests at Villawood.

Milad had been living in the community for some years. He had problems. He was unwell. He had just been told he had no hope of staying in Australia. His entire decade long ordeal as an asylum seeker was for nothing. He would be sent back.

Sadly, when asylum seekers flee danger, war or trauma, we add more.

Visa overstayers and asylum seekers are detained in crowded, chaotic centres that make jails look luxurious. We throw foreign-born drug runners and scammers in with asylum seekers of every race. We offer no cultural sensitivity and few interpreters. Access to legal support has been cut back, too.

Then, if a detainee gets a bridging visa, we starve them. Let them live in the streets!

If they are in community detention, they have no visa. They are very lightly supported by the government.

Women must queue for sanitary pads

If they receive a bridging visa, they mostly need to fend for themselves or rely on charity as the receipt of work rights is no guarantee of work because of the language barrier, lack of child care (no childcare subsidy), no work skills, no local work experience. Very few receive SRSS (Immigration funded support).

The meagre sums ($75 per week) made available to community-based refugees from charities are only provided on the condition that no other income or resource stream exists. We even make women queue up for sanitary pads.

There are also repeated legislative attempts to ban phones in detention, only ever postponed by court injunction. I guess it is handy for Dutton or Scomo if detainees can’t call their lawyer …

Australian Border Force makes their visitors apply in writing days in advance. Guards tell visitors off for being kind or generous. Food can only be brought in supermarket packets. Home cooking is vetoed.

We need a Royal Commission into all forms of Immigration detention onshore and off.

Most refugees are just brave, decent folk people with a ton of initiative trying to find a bearable way to live. The rest are flawed people, just like us. And that is their right, too.