Myan­mar man ac­cused of self-im­mo­la­tion in Australian bank

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

A 21-year-old man ac­cused of in­jur­ing 26 by­standers when he set him­self on fire with gaso­line in a bank branch in Aus­tralia’s sec­ond-largest city was iden­ti­fied on Satur­day as a Myan­mar asy­lum seeker who had been wait­ing three years to be ac­cepted as a refugee. The sus­pect, known by his friends as Noor, and five by­standers were taken to hos­pi­tal with se­ri­ous burns fol­low­ing the fire at the Com­mon­wealth Bank of Aus­tralia branch in the Mel­bourne sub­urb of Spring­vale Fri­day morn­ing, of­fi­cials said. An­other 21 peo­ple rang­ing from chil­dren to el­derly in their 80s were taken to hospi­tals with breath­ing prob­lems. Noor, who re­mained un­der po­lice guard on Satur­day, came to Aus­tralia by boat as a lone teen in 2013 and had been wait­ing to be granted a refugee visa ever since, said Pamela Curr, who re­cently re­tired from the non-gov­ern­ment Asy­lum Seeker Re­source Cen­ter out­side Mel­bourne.

Curr did not know why Noor had al­legedly de­cided to set him­self alight. But she said the Im­mi­gra­tion Depart­ment was threat­en­ing to make thou­sands of asy­lum seek­ers fi­nan­cially des­per­ate by cut­ting their ben­e­fits if their refugee claims were re­jected. “The depart­ment is go­ing to starve thou­sands of peo­ple out of the coun­try, or so they think,” Curr said.

A mem­ber of Myan­mar’s mi­nor­ity Mus­lim Ro­hingya com­mu­nity in Mel­bourne, Habib Habib, said Noor speaks Ro­hingya, al­though he might not him­self iden­tify as Ro­hingya. Noor had been strug­gling fi­nan­cially to help sup­port his fam­ily in Myan­mar with the gov­ern­ment ben­e­fits he is paid ev­ery two weeks, Habib said. Asy­lum seek­ers are not legally al­lowed to work.

Habib had been told that Noor’s lat­est ben­e­fit had not been de­posited into his bank ac­count when it was due on Wed­nes­day and that Noor had re­turned to the bank each day in the hope of mak­ing a with­drawal. Noor’s friends had be­come concerned by the state of his men­tal health as years passed with­out his refugee claim be­ing re­solved. “This sys­tem makes all of them crazy. They’re in le­gal limbo,” Habib said.

Po­lice have yet to an­nounce a mo­tive for the fire, which was quickly ex­tin­guished. Closed-cir­cuit tele­vi­sion footage showed Noor walk­ing to­ward the bank car­ry­ing a plas­tic bot­tle of gaso­line that he had bought from a nearby gas sta­tion mo­ments be­fore the blaze. Act­ing Prime Min­is­ter Barn­aby Joyce on Satur­day de­clined to com­ment on Noor’s refugee claim. “You’d have to lose your mind to do some­thing so cruel,” Joyce told re­porters.

Noor ar­rived in Aus­tralia shortly be­fore July 19, 2013, when the gov­ern­ment in­tro­duced a hard-line pol­icy ban­ning refugees who ar­rive by boat af­ter that date from ever mak­ing Aus­tralia home. Since then, asy­lum seek­ers have been sent to Aus­tralia-run camps on the Pa­cific is­land na­tions of Pa­pua New Guinea and Nauru. Two refugees on Nauru set them­selves alight within a week early this year. The first was a 23-year-old Ira­nian man who died. A 21-year-old So­mali woman sur­vived af­ter hos­pi­tal treat­ment in Aus­tralia. Noor was ini­tially de­tained in an im­mi­gra­tion camp on the Australian ter­ri­tory of Christ­mas Is­land in the In­dian Ocean be­fore he was re­lo­cated to Mel­bourne on a bridg­ing visa while await­ing the out­come of his refugee ap­pli­ca­tion, Curr said.—AP

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