Desperate PNG refugee attempts self-immolation after years of neglect

A 46-year-old Iranian refugee doused himself, and an office, in petrol yesterday morning (Wednesday 10 May) threatening to set himself alight.

Abolfath Gheitasi had gone to the offices of Chatswood at Waigani in Port Moresby, the supposed service provider for refugees in PNG around 9.15am Wednesday morning, carrying petrol and a lighter.  He had poured the petrol over himself, and inside and outside the building.

Firefighters were called to the building, and after a stand-off with security and PNG immigration officers, Abolfath eventually handed them the lighter.

“The attempted suicide highlights the desperate circumstances for the 88 refugees and asylum seekers still being held in PNG,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

Abolfath was one of the first refugees to be transferred to Manus Island after the Rudd government implemented the Pacific Solution II in July 2013. He was accepted to go to the US and did a medical for transfer to the US, three years ago, but is still waiting. 

Besides the torture of Manus Island, refugees now in Port Moresby had gone several weeks without income support from Chatswood. PNG officials and UNHCR were warned about Abolfath’s deteriorating situation and threats of self-harm two months ago.

The lack of support for refugees in PNG and Nauru was one of the features of Labor’s budget failure to address the urgent needs of refugees and asylum seekers. Labor has refused to transfer sick refuges from PNG even though refugees are still being transferred from Nauru.

The neglect is also highlighted by the announcement of US president Joe Biden’s visit to PNG to sign a defence pact with PNG and a $32 million assistance package, while dozens of refugees in PNG are still waiting to be resettled in the US. A new joint Australia-US-PNG military deal is expanding the navy base on Manus Island, ironically the base where refugees were held after 2013.

“It is almost ten years since refugees were transferred by a Labor government to Manus Island. Labor has a particular responsibility to those they dumped there. Refugees are waiting forlornly for resettlement in the US or NZ,” said Rintoul, “It’s time for Labor to end the mistreatment and uncertainty and bring them to Australia.” 

For more information, contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713