Omid Masoumali’s tragic death in 2016 could have been avoided with right medical care – coroner calls for certainty on resettlement

The Queensland Coroner has found that the death of refugee, Omid Masoumali, in 2016 could have been avoided with the right medical care, and that there needs to be greater certainty and expedition on resettlement for the remaining refugees still trapped on PNG and Nauru if such tragic events are to be avoided in the future.

Omid tragically died two days after setting himself alight on Nauru where he had been detained for more than three years as part of the Australian Government’s cruel offshore detention policy. That policy continues today with more than 230 people still stuck in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

Omid, just 23 when he died, had been trying to reach Australia to seek asylum after fleeing Iran. Despite being given refugee status, Omid had no hope for future resettlement in Australia as the Government refused to accept anyone who tried to arrive by boat. After years in limbo the emotional toll tragically led to a desperate act.

Elham Arouni Hesari, Omid’s mother said: “My son loved Australia, but the way Australia rejected him and took his life will forever torture me. My son had serious burns and then internal bleeding. Why did they operate on him in a place that did not have adequate medical facilities to deal with his burns?”

Omid’s family said: “If our dearest Omid had been taken to a properly equipped hospital promptly, he could be alive now. Omid never had any psychological problems at home, but unfortunately Australia did not welcome him, and the harsh immigration system led him to take desperate measures. How is it possible that in Australia, a country with advanced medical facilities, a young man can die this way?

“We named our baby boy ‘Omid’, which means hope in Farsi, because we had beautiful dreams for him. Now all we have is the cold stone of his grave, where he died, lonely and innocent, in a foreign country. Australia has taken our hope, our Omid.”

Craig Foster, former Socceroo, sports TV presenter, and human rights advocate, said: “This case encapsulates the appalling harm that successive Australian governments have inflicted on thousands of refugees over the past eight and a half years. When every Australian watches the shocking images of Omid setting himself alight, please remember that he is a symbol of the suffering of thousands and think about all those who shamefully remain imprisoned.”

George Newhouse, Principal Solicitor, National Justice Project said: “Omid’s tragic death highlights the Australian government’s failure to properly care for asylum seekers and refugees left languishing indefinitely on Nauru and in PNG. Omid’s death should lead to significant reform of Australia’s inhumane and cruel off-shore immigration processing system. All remaining individuals in PNG and Nauru must be resettled as a matter of urgency. Any immigration detainees, whether on-shore or off-shore, must be provided with intensive psychological support and health and welfare services. The current system is a failure and is intensifying the cruelty, pain and anguish being suffered by men, women and children left on Nauru and in PNG and all those who remain in limbo in Australia.”

Graham Thom, Refugee Adviser for Amnesty International, said: “Years of neglect by the Australian government followed by an appalling medical response led to Omid’s death. It was totally avoidable. There are still more than 200 people trapped offshore on Nauru and PNG. They too are suffering. It’s time for the Australian Government to accept the New Zealand offer to resettle the refugees and get them to safety.”

Paul Power, CEO of Refugee Council of Australia said: “This inquiry has once again shown the irreparable damage that offshore processing continues to cause. As Australia plans to abandon the men it transferred to PNG, they are being pressured to relocate to Nauru. We know it is not a solution. The harrowing experience of Mr Masoumali and his wife revealed during this inquiry confirms this. The evidence is clear that Nauru cannot provide a supportive and safe environment for people who sought refugee protection and have been shipped against their will from one place to another for the past eight years.

“This offshore processing policy has caused so much suffering and has done untold damage to the nation’s reputation. In our name, the Australian Government has spent $9 billion on inflicting harm on people who sought our nation’s help. And eight years later, there is still no end in sight for the 1400 people who remain in limbo. This is a national disgrace.”

Dulce Munoz, National Convener for Mums4 Refugees, said: “The death of Omid Masoumali should be etched in the minds of every Australian. It is evident that his death was the result of deliberate cruelty and it is unforgivable.”

Jana Favero, Director of Advocacy and Campaigns at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), said: “Today’s findings into the avoidable and tragic death of Omid confirm the failed policy that is offshore detention. For over eight years people who sought safety on our shores have been detained, denied a fair process and subjected to cruel and damaging treatment. Omid was in our care and we neglected him. An urgent solution is needed – detention release and permanent resettlement.”