Iraqi asked to go home before killing himself




AN IRAQI asylum seeker who hanged himself at Villawood detention centre early yesterday ''begged'' the department of immigration to send him home.

Ahmad al-Akabi, a 41-year-old father of three young daughters, had been held for more than a year, having been processed on Christmas Island after arriving in Australian waters by boat. His death comes just two months after a Fijian detainee, Josefa Rauluni, 36, committed suicide at Villawood.

Mr Akabi is understood to have suffered severe depression in recent months and demanded to be returned to the Iraqi city of Karbala, where he had worked as a primary school teacher.A fellow Iraqi asylum seeker at Villawood who knew Mr Akabi told the Herald: ''He had become very upset and depressed and he told authorities, 'If you will not give me a protection visa then please let me go home now.'''

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the asylum seeker added: ''He begged them to let him go back to Iraq so he could be with his family. He wanted to go home; he had girls aged two, four and seven - nobody knows why this wasn't allowed to happen.''

The Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, yesterday confirmed that Mr Akabi had asked to be deported and admitted detainees faced a ''very stressful situation'', but his department refused to comment on whether Mr Akabi had received psychiatric treatment, citing privacy concerns.Serco, the company that runs Villawood, had also been made aware that the Iraqi was a suicide risk, said Jamal Daoud of the Social Justice Network.

Mr Akabi's friends had been watching him around the clock for the past few days ''because they were so worried about him and the authorities running the centre had been told this as well,'' Mr Daoud said. ''His wife had asked him to come home recently as she was struggling to cope and this put great pressure on him. He told his friends he was going for a cigarette and when he didn't return they started looking for him.''

Friends found Mr Akabi in a toilet at 12.40am. It is believed he used the drawstring cords from three pairs of shorts to take his life. A Serco guard tried to resuscitate him but he was pronounced dead at Liverpool Hospital.

A spokesman for the Refugee Action Coalition, Ian Rintoul, said Mr Akabi's death was ''easily preventable'' but warned more detainees would harm or kill themselves if mandatory detention of asylum seekers were not stopped.

''Detention was supposed to be a last resort but now it's the first,'' he said. ''We will see more terrible incidents like this unless there's a change.''Mr Akabi, who said he had fled Iraq after being attacked by religious militias, had twice been denied refugee status.

However, he would have been eligible to challenge those decisions after the High Court recently found the refugee assessment process lacked procedural fairness. It is unclear whether he was aware his claim could have been revisited.About 160 detainees reportedly went on hunger strike in response to the suicide.Police are investigating the death. Serco will provide the Immigration Department with a report.

Tom Reilly,
Sydney morning Herald

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