Manus Island asylum seeker who set himself on fire to be charged with attempted suicide | Australia news


The Papua New Guinea police will charge a man with arson and attempted suicide after he set fire to himself and his room at asylum seeker accomodation on Manus Island.

After initial treatment for burns to his face and hand, the 30-year-old man, who has been denied asylum, was taken to the police station and held overnight before he was evacuated to Port Moresby for further medical treatment.

“As soon as he returns back to Manus Island, police will have him charged accordingly,” said the chief of Manus police, Inspector David Yapu.

Yapu said the man was discharged from the Pacific International hospital (PIH) medical clinic in the town of Lorengau on Friday, and then taken to the police station and interviewed.

“He admitted setting fire in his own room to burn himself. He spent a night in police custody and was to be charged for arson and attempted suicide but on the next day he was ‘medevacced’ to Port Moresby for further medical treatment.”

Under the PNG criminal code, attempting suicide is considered a misdemeanour which carries a penalty of up to one year in prison. Arson carries a sentence of up to life in prison.

The incident occurred at Hillside Haus, one of three accomodation blocks in Lorengau housing hundreds of men following the closure of the detention centre in late 2017. Hillside Haus accommodates men whose asylum claims have been rejected.

According to one of the man’s friends, prior to the fire the man locked himself in his room after allegedly being refused proper treatment at the PIH clinic. Inside he set fire to the room and himself, he said. His roommate at Hillside Haus said he assisted security guards in breaking down the door to get the man out.

The man’s friend told Guardian Australia he had initially tried to visit the PIH clinic at Lorengau after the fire but was refused.

“I was waiting there for my bro for more than two hours but they don’t let me see him,” he said.

“They said he’s under the treatment now so don’t allow [me] to come inside … I said, ‘Can you explain why you guys giving him treatment now, where were you before [when] he was asking you for treatment’.”

The two men eventually met at the local police station on Saturday, where he took a photograph showing severe burns on the side of his friend’s face and ear, which Guardian Australia has seen.

“I spoke to him last night [and] he tells me he is in ICU [intensive care unit in Port Moresby]. He said ‘I’m in pain, I can’t talk to you much.’

“He said the whole body was burning from the inside. Vomiting occurs when I eat food [he said]. His burned face is also hurting [and] also has stitches in his stomach.”

Yapu confirmed the injured man had been to the PIH clinic that morning, and had locked himself in his room on his return. He said the fire spread to two other rooms but no one else was injured.

Yapu said it was “frustrating” that this was the fourth deliberately lit fire at the accommodation blocks.

“Those buildings cost government a lot of money to build to accommodate the refugees and non-refugees and they should look after them until such time they leave PNG and resettle in the third country,” said Yapu.

The injured man is one of several hundred men in PNG sent there by Australia under its offshore processing regime. Many have been there for more than six years, most of that time in detention. In recent months around 100 men have attempted suicide or self harmed, and both the Australian-contracted and PNG services are struggling to deal with the crisis which worsened after the Australian election.

Earlier this month PNG’s paramilitary police unit, mobile squad, was deployed to the accommodation area in the hope their presence would reduce acts of self-harm.

Responding to an article about the mental health crisis, Yapu wrote on Facebook last month: “What more can our police officers do?”

“Attempts (sic) suicides, self-harm are beyond our control and part of system of depression related to long-term offshore detention, unknown future and families living away from them and result to severe mental illness.”

PIH holds a $21.5m contract with the Australian government to provide healthcare to the refugees and asylum seekers but has come under intense criticism and scrutiny, including accusations it is referring patients to the severely under-resourced local Lorengau hospital.



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