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Afghan asylum seeker found dead in Australia

March 29, 2011

The number of people applying for asylum in Australia rose 33 per cent last year, according to the UN refugee agency. –Photo by AP

SYDNEY: An Afghan man seeking asylum in Australia has been found dead in a detention centre, officials said Tuesday, in what refugee advocates said was the fifth such suicide in the past seven months.

The man, understood to be a 19-year-old from the Hazara ethnic minority who came to Australia by boat, was found Monday in his room at the remote Curtin Immigration Detention Centre on Western Australia’s north coast.

Refugee advocates said the man had taken his own life after spending the past 10 months in immigration detention — which is mandatory for all boat people arriving in Australia while their claims are assessed.

Pamela Curr from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said the man’s friends had told her he had gone to his room when immigration officers arrived to tell people who had landed only two months ago the results of their applications.

“He couldn’t understand why he was still waiting when those people who had been here two months were getting their decisions,” Curr told AFP. “The whole thing is very arbitrary.”

The death comes after days of unrest at Australia’s main immigration processing centre at Christmas Island, where inmates rioted and burned down tented accommodation, prompting police to use tear gas to subdue them.

Curr said detention centres were overcrowded and unable to cope with a recent influx in mostly Afghan and Sri Lankan boat people.

She said it was the fifth suicide in immigration detention since a 36-year-old Fijian man jumped to his death from the roof of a Sydney centre last September.

The death comes as Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and Immigration Minister Chris Bowen visit Indonesia, where they will discuss Australia’s proposed regional processing centre for asylum seekers to be based in East Timor.

The number of people applying for asylum in Australia rose 33 per cent last year, according to the UN refugee agency, after more than 6,500 boat people arrived in 2010, filling detention centres beyond capacity.