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2 June 2014

Melbourne, Monday – The death through self-immolation of a Tamil asylum seeker in Geelong on Sunday is further evidence that the Australian Government’s refugee policy is killing people, a spokesman for the Tamil Refugee Council said today.

“Leo Seemanpillai was just 29 years of age and had everything to live for. But the psychological suffering he has been put through by the Australian Government’s cruel, inhumane policies pushed him to the point where he believed he no longer had anything to live for, “ said Aran Mylvaganam, who was at the man’s hospital bedside when he died yesterday.

“We have seen Reza Berati murdered in an Australian-run detention centre. Then two months ago we saw a Tamil man in Sydney self-immolate after being told his application for protection had failed and he must return to Sri Lanka. Thankfully he survived although his recovery will be long and painful after receiving burns to 75 per cent of his body.

“Now we have the death of a young man who, like so many other young Tamils on bridging visas in this country, wake up every morning and wonder if this will be the day when they are told they must return to the persecution from which they fled.”

Seemanpillai, a Christian from the Mannar region in Sri Lanka, arrived in Darwin by boat from India in 2012. He was held in detention for several months before being released into the community. He is understood to have fled Sri Lanka for India after coming under threat from the Sri Lankan military. On Saturday he doused himself in petrol and set himself alight. He received burns to 90 per cent of his body. He passed away in the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne at 9.15 a.m. on Sunday. His final act was to donate his organs after the hospital authorities contacted his parents in Sri Lanka.

“Like thousands of others, Leo had been waiting for more than 18 months to be told if he could stay in Australia and be safe from persecution,” said Mylvaganam. “He was well aware, though, of the statements from the Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison, that he wants to send back all Tamil asylum seekers, regardless of the legitimacy of their claims under the Refugee Convention. Leo also knew that at least 1500 Tamils have been returned by this government and the previous Labor government under a special arrangement with the Sri Lankan government.

“He has been suffering from depression for more than a year. Gradually his psychological state deteriorated and he tipped over the edge. We have now had two of these self-immolation cases and we dread the fact that there will be more. So many of the Tamil asylum seekers have been telling me for a long time they would prefer to die here than be sent back to a Sri Lankan torture chamber. I always hoped that these were just words. But it seems that’s not the case.”

For further information contact the Tamil Refugee Council 0400 597 351

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