A Somalian refugee woman set herself on fire at a controversial immigration detention center on the Australian island of Nauru, following a similar action by another refugee in the same week.
A 21-year-old woman named Hadon (who is also referred to as Hadan in media reports) suffered critical injuries from the self-immolation. She is currently being treated at a Nauruan hospital by four emergency doctors, including two anesthetists, the Nauruan government said in a statement released on Monday.
Hadon was living at the detention center after being forcibly removed from Australia, where she was being treated for unrelated medical issues. She was returned to Nauru last week after her health improved.
Immigrant advocates are placing the blame at the feet of Peter Dutton, the country’s immigration minister, who has encouraged his government to send border arrivals to the islands of Nauru and Papua New Guinea. From there, asylum seekers are either deported back to their home countries or resettled to another country like Cambodia. This essentially amounts to an “offshore detention regime,” according to Australian legal experts.
About 550 people, including 70 children, live in Nauru’s detention center, some of whom have compared it to a prison. The center has come under frequent scrutiny for its deplorable conditions, including reports of sexual and physical abuse of women and children. Amnesty International researchers who visited the detention center on Nauru in 2012 found 387 men cramped into “five rows of leaking tents, suffering from physical and mental ailments.” As of August 2015, at least 653 people were being detained there “indefinitely.”
“This is another self-harm attempt that is Peter Dutton’s responsibility,” Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition, said in response to Hadon’s decision to set herself on fire. “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.”
The Nauruan government claims that refugees and asylum seekers in the detention centers “enjoy the same freedoms” as local Nauruan citizens and actually “have better facilities” in some cases. In a statement, government officials characterized Hadon’s self-immolation as a political act and criticized refugee advocates for “stirring up these protests.”
“We are distressed that refugees are attempting such dreadful acts in order to attempt to influence the Australian Government’s immigration policies,” the statement read. “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.”
Earlier in the week, another refugee named Omid died from third-degree burns after he also set himself on fire in Nauru’s detention center. After Omid passed away in a hospital in Brisbane, Amnesty International released a statement condemning the “fatal flaws” in Australia’s offshore processing center.
“The desperate actions of this refugee underscore the perilous circumstances found in offshore processing centers run by the Australian government. As Amnesty International has been stressing for several years now, the current system is cruel, inhuman and needs to end,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s senior research adviser for South East Asia and the Pacific. “This is just another case that highlights the dismal failures of health care on Nauru, which is ill-equipped to deal with refugees suffering serious psychological conditions, often as a result of trauma.”