SYDNEY (AFP) ― Australia’s immigration minister has described an incident in which an asylum-seeker sent himself on fire as “distressing” but said it would not change the way the government handles refugee claims.
Scott Morrison said late Saturday he was waiting to be briefed about the case.
The Tamil Refugee Council told media it happened on Friday night in a Melbourne home when a 40-year-old Sri Lankan set himself on fire by pouring petrol on his legs and lighting it.
The council said the asylum-seeker, whose name was not released, had minor burns to a leg and was taken to a Melbourne hospital after his housemates intervened and put out the fire.
He was in stable condition and was set to be discharged over the weekend.
The latest incident came just two days after hundreds of mourners gathered at a church in Geelong outside Melbourne for the funeral of 29-year-old Leorsin Seemanpillai, a Sri Lankan asylum-seeker who died on June 1 after setting himself ablaze the day before.
In April another asylum-seeker -- also from Sri Lanka ― was seriously hurt after setting himself alight in Sydney.
Morrison said that in the latest case, the asylum-seeker was on a bridging (temporary) visa after arriving in Australia by boat.
“This is another distressing incident and I am yet to receive a briefing on the case,” he said in a statement.
“It is important that public commentary does not provide an incentive for repetition of these events by other persons who may be vulnerable.
“It is important that such actions, or the threat of such action, has no bearing on a person’s asylum claims or the government’s policy on the assessment of claims.”
While most boatpeople come to Australia via Indonesia, many have also attempted the difficult sea trip direct from Sri Lanka. They claim persecution over the country’s Tamil separatist conflict.
Australia has sent back dozens of Sri Lankan nationals who tried to enter the country illegally.
Tamil Refugee Council spokeswoman Sri Samy said the man involved in the latest case was like some other Tamil asylum-seekers, who had told her they were fearful of being repatriated and “say they would prefer to die here than be sent back.”
More than 24,000 asylum-seekers are living in Australia on bridging visas of the type the asylum-seeker was on, according to the immigration department.
A further 4,016 asylum-seekers are held in detention centres in Australia, including on Christmas Island, and in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
Under Australia‘s tough refugee policy, asylum-seekers who arrived by boat after July 2013 have been sent to detention centres on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea or Nauru for processing and permanent resettlement.