Our national shame: another death in custody

Am I the only one who is this devastated about our country’s policy around, and appalling treatment of, asylum seekers?

I know I can’t be. I know there are compassionate Australians out there who, just like me, find it despicable that we treat human beings like they’re worthless, simply because they’re not lucky enough to be born in Australia.

But judging by the deafening silence and lack of outrage on social media and in the news about the latest death in custody at Villawood in Sydney’s west, it sure feels like Australia doesn’t care about these people.


The asylum seeker from the middle east was found deceased in his room on Monday night.

His death comes six weeks after a Sierra Leone man died in the same facility. Refugee advocate Ian Rintoul said that man, Musa, “should never have been in detention in the first place”.

“This is a completely shocking and unnecessary death,” Rintoul, spokesman for the Refugee Action Coalition, said. “His severe mental health problems have been known for years, yet he was kept in detention with no hope of getting well.”

And then there is Omid. Last year, the Nauru detainee was admitted to hospital on the mainland a full 30 hours after suffering burns to 50% of his body. If he’d been admitted within 10 hours, his treating doctor, Professor Michael Muller, said he likely would have survived. Omid died at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital (RBWH), due to unnecessary delays in getting him treatment.

A google search reveals countless more of these devastating stories. So many people have had their lives ruined, their families lives shattered; their mental health has deteriorated to the point where they will never be the same, or they have severely self-harmed. Many have taken their own lives and died of preventable illnesses.

The response from a loud contingent of everyday Australians?

“Well, they should have gone through the proper channels.”

“They should have stayed in their own country.”

“This is what happens when you try to jump the queue…”

This ignorant, hateful rhetoric is all too common when it comes to asylum seekers. Let’s remember that these people are not criminals – but we treat them worse than any offender in our prisons.

When we have reached the point where innocent people are suffering and dying at the hands of our government, simply because they “didn’t go through the proper channels” – we have failed.

This is our national shame. One day, when our children ask us, “How did you let this happen?”… what can we possibly say to justify our lack of compassion and human decency?