“I Cannot Take It Anymore”: A Refugee Set Himself On Fire Protesting Our Government In Nauru

"This is obviously a very confronting situation," Peter Dutton said this afternoon. Yes. Yes, it is.

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This post discusses graphic self-harm.

Desperately frustrated with his treatment at the hands of the Australian government, a 23-year-old Iranian refugee named Omid has set himself on fire at a settlement in Nauru. A video of the event is now circulating online in which he stands, drenched in gasoline, yelling at a small crowd which reportedly includes representatives from the United Nations.

“This is how tired we are,” he says. “This action will prove how exhausted we are. I cannot take it anymore.”

Omid has survived the incident but is currently in a critical condition with severe burns to his face and body. He’s being treated at a hospital in Nauru but, as facilities on-site are sub-par, he may be evacuated to Australia for further treatment. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has just faced the media confirming an airlift is planned for tonight, but went on to speculate on the man’s survival.

“His outlook is not good at all,” he said. “I send our best wishes and condolences in the circumstances to his wife and family otherwise. This is obviously a very confronting situation for people who were present. I understand there were representatives from the UNHCR on island as part of a regular visit and this is a circumstance which is very unfortunate.”

The visit from the UNHCR was reportedly conducted as part of an initiative to assess the mental health of detainees due to continued horrifying reports from both Australia’s Nauru and Manus Island facilities. Data obtained via the Freedom of Information Act shows there were 188 incidents of self-harm in Nauru last year including people drinking insect repellant, cutting their bodies with razors and hanging themselves with bedsheets. Earlier this month, the Nauruan government went so far as to convict a man of attempted suicide in an effort to deter others from trying to take their own lives.

None of this is new, of course. Even with our immigration facilities’ institutionalised culture of secrecy, we’ve been bombarded with a wave genuinely dystopian tragedy for years now. Kids drawing pictures of people crying and talking about being left in pain for months. Women being raped and going to great lengths to find essential health services. Babies being denied basic compassion. For every person screaming and setting themselves on fire, there are hundreds more suffering in silence.

This latest tragedy (and the media attention which surrounds it) does however come at a pivotal moment for the Australian Immigration Department. Yesterday the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea found that our detention of asylum seekers and refugees on Manus Island is illegal and public pressure is now mounting to close the centre and bring them to Australia. This is the message thousands are planning to send the government at rallies this weekend and Omid’s sad act seemingly underscores the need for it.

After speaking briefly about the self-immolation this afternoon, Peter Dutton addressed the speculation around the Manus facility in his statements to the media. “I’ve repeated today, the government’s position is clear,” he said. “We are not going to accept people who come to our country illegally by boat. They will not settle permanently in our country. The Supreme Court decision is an issue for the PNG government.”

He then talked about Labor’s past failings with immigration and deaths at sea.

Then about how many boats have arrived in Australia since the Coalition took office.

Then about Australia’s hard line on people smugglers.

And on and on it goes.