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Asylum Seeker Death: Independent Investigation Needed, Advocates Say

Hamed Shamshiripour is remembered by friends in Australia and PNG.

08/08/2017 2:23 PM AEST | Updated 08/08/2017 2:24 PM AEST
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Days after the death of Hamed Shamshiripour on Manus island, friends and fellow asylum seekers held a vigil for the 31-year-old.

Asylum seekers and refugee advocates are calling for an independent investigation into the death of a man near the Australian-run detention centre on Manus Island, saying foul play cannot be ruled out.

Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said it is impossible for the PNG police to rule out foul play in the death of Iranian man Hamed Shamshiripour, 31, who was found dead behind the Australian-run East Lorengau refugee transit centre on Monday.

PNG police in Manus province are investigating, but officials in Port Moresby have reportedly ruled out foul play.

"The hastiness of the declaration only makes it look more suspicious," Rintoul said in a statement.

"There is an urgent need for an independent autopsy and investigation to establish the cause of death. It has been disgusting to watch the Turnbull government try to avoid its responsibility."

Rintoul said the Australian government is directly implicated in Shamshiripour's death and the investigation, as his supporters say they made multiple attempts to get him help in the months leading up to his death.

Refugees and asylum seekers held a vigil for Hamed in Delta compound inside the detention centre Monday night.

Manus asylum seekers and refugees who have died since 2013 while under Australia's supervision:

  • Hamed Shamshiripour — 31, from Iran. Found dead on Monday (Aug 8) near the Refugee Transit Centre in East Lorengau. Suspected suicide.
  • Hamid Kehazaei — 24, Iranian asylum seeker died after an untreated wound became infected. Medical staff asked for his evaluation to Brisbane, but it was not granted until two days later. He died in Sept 2014.
  • Reza Berati — 23, murdered during a series of protests at the centre in February 2014. Two detention centre workers were jailed for his murder.
  • Faysal Ishak — 27, from Sudan. Died in Brisbane hospital after he had a seizure, fell and hit his head on Manus in Dec 2016
  • Kamil Hussain — 34, Pakistan. Drowned while swimming at a waterfall on Manus during a day trip from the centre in August 2016.

Journalist and Manus detainee Behrouz Boochani also called for an independent investigation.

Comment has been sought from Boochani, however he told the New York Times on Monday refugees had petitioned authorities to care for the man, but in eight months no action had been taken to ensure his safety.

"They left him most of the time," Boochani said. "He was hungry and homeless. Nobody cared about him."

"I feel so powerless. I really tried to help him."

Another friend, writer Janet Galbraith, met Shamshiripour in Melbourne in 2015 before he was returned to Manus.

She described him as having "big gentle energy" and a fondness for music. He had spent time in jail on Manus last year after what she described as a "psychotic break." She said he often spoke of wanting to help more vulnerable men there, "and early on you seemed to really believe you would survive it."

"I loved you," she wrote in a Facebook tribute on Monday.

"I am so so sorry to your family and friends. I am furious and I am so sorry for such immense suffering especially over the last year and a bit - that was too much for anyone and you were so alone in it.

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"It is clear who is at fault," said Behrouz Boochani. Refugees and asylum seekers held a vigil for Hamed in Delta compound inside the detention centre Monday night.

"I can't believe it Hamed. I can't f***ing believe it but I knew it was going to happen -- you were abused so terribly and mercilessly."

Former Manus MP Ronnie Knight told the HuffPost Australia on Monday he had asked authorities to release Shamshiripour from jail on the island last year on humanitarian grounds after he had been arrested following an altercation.

"I haven't seen him for a couple months. He was not on the streets as before," Knight told the HuffPost Australia. Knight warned more deaths would occur in the Papua New Guinea province as tensions continue to simmer between locals and asylum seekers.

"They need to be repatriated now," he said.

Amnesty International said it is gravely concerned Shamshiripour was provided inadequate health care and that his safety was not the paramount consideration.

"This death is yet another bleak tragedy to arise out of the ongoing suffering and tensions on Manus Island," said Graham Thom, Refugee Coordinator at Amnesty International Australia.

"There must be an independent, impartial, prompt and effective investigation into his death."

Immigration minister Peter Dutton has yet to publicly comment on Shamshiripour's death, which marks the fifth death on Manus under Australia's supervision since 2013.

On Monday a medical professional who worked on Manus -- but not directly with Shamshiripour -- told Radio New Zealand he should have been independently assessed by a psychiatrist.

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Refugees and asylum seekers held a vigil for Hamed in Delta compound inside the detention centre Monday night.

"And he should have been transferred to Australia for specialist, inpatient mental health treatment," she said.

In May it was announced Australia's refugee processing centre on Manus Island would begin closing, with asylum seekers told to "consider their options."

During an April 2016 visit to Manus, medical experts surveyed 181 asylum-seekers and refugees and found that 88 per cent were suffering from a depressive or anxiety disorder and/or post-traumatic stress disorder.

The United Nations report also found "a number of very severe psychiatric disorders were identified, including gross psychopathology consistent with psychosis as well as psychotic dissociation."

The closure is expected to be complete by October 31. Authorities have repeatedly said no refugee who arrived in Australia by boat will be allowed resettle in Australia. There were 821 men on Manus as part of Australia's immigration policy as of April this year.

In a statement on Monday the department of immigration said PNG authorities are investigating the matter, and further questions should be directed to the Government of PNG.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton must accept some responsibility for Shamshiripour's death, Greens Senator Nick McKim said on Monday.

"This man repeatedly sought Australia's help," McKim said.

"The Liberals ignored his pleas and now must bear responsibility for what happened."

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