Authorities probing death of Villawood detaineeApril 2, 2022
The death of a male detainee at the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre is being investigated by authorities.
The man, a 35-year-old Kurd from Iran, arrived by boat in 2013.
Australian Border Force has confirmed his death and said it had been referred to the appropriate authorities, including the NSW Coroner, for investigation.
Friends of the man, who died on March 26, claim he took his life after being bullied and bashed by other detainees and the refusal of staff to transfer him out of the high-security compound.
Villawood Immigrant Detention Centre.Credit:Fiona Lee-Quimby
The Villawood facility, which is run by Serco on behalf of the Australian government, is the largest immigration detention centre in the country and currently holds 499 detainees.
Refugee Action Coalition coordinator Ian Rintoul said the dead man’s family in Iran were “bewildered” but were aware of tough conditions in detention and hoping for answers at the inquest.
They will be represented at the inquest by George Newhouse at the National Justice Project. The deceased man also had a cousin living in Australia, but they were not in close contact.
In the past few years, several men have died by suicide at the detention centre. The Department of Home Affairs and medical provider International Health and Medical Services are already facing criminal charges they failed in their duties relating to the care of a 26-year-old Iraqi detainee who died by suicide in 2019.
Fellow detainee Mohammad Dadashy, 32, said his “awesome and caring” friend was being bullied and bashed by other detainees.
“The pressure of getting bullied and bashed was more than the pressure of being locked up, according to my knowledge of knowing him,” Mr Dadashy said.
“In the week before he ended his life, he wasn’t leaving his room at all because he was very scared. I could tell by his mood and his face he was not safe, and he was suffering.”
The Villawood facility is run by Serco, on behalf of the Australian government.Credit:Fiona-Lee Quimby
Mr Dadashy and other detainees say the deceased man was “on watch” and being checked once an hour. Mr Rintoul said being on watch meant being under mental health surveillance but was usually more constant.
The deceased man was initially released to the community on a temporary protection visa, but his visa was cancelled after he was arrested and convicted for crimes, thought to be drug offences, and he was sent back to immigration detention after serving jail time. Mr Dadashy said his friend, like many refugees, suffered drug addiction because of untreated trauma and the difficulty of being in a strange country with no friends.
Centre operator Serco deferred questions to Border Force. A Border Force spokesperson would not comment on the specific case because of the investigation and did not respond to the general questions about violence, but said there were plans in place to prevent and detect contraband including illegal drug supply, and detainees had access to programs to reduce drug and alcohol dependency and minimise harms.
Immigration detention centres are known to be violent places. A freedom of information request revealed there were 4115 assaults in Australian immigration detention centres between January 1 2015 and March 31, 2020. Of the 184 assaults reported to police, more than 80 per cent of the perpetrators were detainees.
Mr Dadashy said Serco knew or should have known about his friend being bullied and bashed, as he had requested to be moved from the Hume compound. Mr Dadashy said he had also recommended his friend be moved for his safety, but this did not happen.
Detainees are seen at the Villawood Detention Centre.Credit:Robert Pearce
Mr Dadashy said he first met his friend on Christmas Island in 2017. They were not in the same compound at Villawood, but he spoke regularly to his friend on the mobile phone or WhatsApp.
While his friend was reluctant to discuss the bullying in detail, Mr Dadashy also knew about it from mutual friends, including one who had witnessed it and also been a victim of the same people.
Another of the deceased man’s friends, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals, said the deceased had directly told him about the bullying.
Mr Rintoul from Refugee Action Coalition was also told by separate sources that the deceased was not leaving his room after he was assaulted a couple of weeks ago, and again the day before his death.
NSW police outside the Villawood Detention Centre.Credit:AAP
This is the second time Mr Dadashy has been personally affected by the suicide of one of his friends while in detention.
The first time, in 2018, Mr Dadashy returned to his room at the Yongah Hill centre in Western Australia to find his friend Sarwan Al Jhelie, 21, had taken his own life.
Mr Dadashy said he still had nightmares and suffered flashbacks.
“Any time I want to open my door in detention, I feel like I’m going to be seeing some kind of tragedy,” he said.
Villawood detainee Mohammad Dadashy in his room.
Mr Dadashy has been in Australian immigration detention for 10 years. His claim for asylum was refused and he has exhausted all avenues for appeal, but as he maintains his refugee status he cannot be returned to Iran.
His lawyer Alison Battison, founder of Human Right 4 All, said Mr Dadashy has a number of claims to asylum but the strongest is that he was persecuted in Iran for his conversion to Christianity.
He suffered post-traumatic stress disorder as a result and was so unwell that he was transferred from Nauru to Australia relatively quickly.
“He has been consistently exposed to traumatic events and detention is a very violent place and it’s full of people with mental health issues – it is not a place for somebody who arrived in Australia with PTSD,” Ms Battison said.
Mr Dadashy was nearly released into the community in 2014 but this was scuttled when Serco staff made allegations that resulted in him being charged and convicted of criminal offences. He was cleared of all wrongdoing in the Victorian Supreme Court in 2019 and no longer has a criminal record – yet the decision on his asylum application remains against him.
The only hope of Mr Dadashy leaving detention, Ms Battison says, is if the Immigration Minister uses the same “godlike powers” he used to revoke tennis star Novak Djokovic’s visa, but to grant one instead.
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