Politics

The Government Didn’t Bother To Tell A Refugee’s Wife That Her Husband Died On Manus Island

"I'm lost for words."

Content warning: suicide


Earlier this week, another asylum seeker on Manus Island died in an apparent suicide. His wife found out when a refugee advocate called to express her condolences, because no one from the government bothered to let her know.

A staff member from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre called Salim’s wife yesterday, approximately 24 hours after his death, intending to comfort her and offer her assistance. Instead, the staff member discovered that she was actually breaking the news of Salim’s death to his wife, who hadn’t been told.

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre founder Kon Karapanagiotidis shared the story on Twitter yesterday afternoon, writing that he was “lost for words”.

Speaking on ABC radio this morning, Karapanagiotidis added that he first met Salim on Manus Island back in November, and that it was abundantly clear then that Salim needed Australia’s help.

“He was a Rohingyan man who was found to be a refugee, that had been there for five years. He was bedridden at the time that I saw him, suffering from extreme epilepsy and extreme mental unwellness. He couldn’t even get out of his bed at the time.”

“I remember being so shocked and distressed — how was this man here? Only to now, just a handful of months later, to hear that he has taken his life, it’s absolutely devastating.”

“After we found out that he’d taken his life, our first priority was the welfare of his family. One of our staff members called his wife yesterday to comfort her and to check on her and see how we could be of assistance. What was so shocking to our staff member was she was hearing this news for the very first time — Peter Dutton’s Department of Home Affairs hasn’t actually contacted her and let her know that her husband has died.”

“In the words of my staff member, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. She was just so distressed and shocked that she was the one breaking the new to his wife, that her husband had died, some 24 hours after he had passed.”

He stressed that Salim’s wife is not especially difficult to contact, despite being overseas. “We organised an interpreter and we were able to get through to her immediately.”

“We’re at a great loss as to why Peter Dutton and his Department of Home Affairs wouldn’t think it’s their responsibility.”

“She deserved better than this, and Salim deserved better than this.”

The Department of Home Affairs, meanwhile, was unapologetic — in response to questions they offered one line: “this is a matter for the PNG Government”.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton also refused to comment when asked by reporters. When asked about it in Question Time today, Dutton responded by saying “I’m not going to take a morals lecture from the Greens when it comes to border protection policy.”

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Feature images by DIAC Images (via Wikimedia Commons) and lisebuckeridge on Instagram