Sydney rooftop protesters in leap threat: activist

SYDNEY — A group of protesting asylum-seekers Tuesday threatened to leap from the roof of a Sydney detention centre where a Fijian man plunged to his death a day earlier, an activist told AFP.

Bala Vigneswaran of the Australian Tamil Congress said nine Sri Lankan Tamils, who are among 11 protesters on the centre’s roof, had demanded a review of their cases and will decide what action to take at 5:00 pm (0700 GMT).

“If the worst comes to the worst we will jump,” the Tamils said according to Vigneswaran, who warned a mass leap from the two-storey building would spark chaos at the Villawood centre.

“Jumping is only a start,” he said. “If that happens, people at the bottom will go out of control.”

Negotiators and security guards were on the scene. Activists said four of the protesters had deliberately slashed themselves, while the group has unfurled a banner saying, “We need help and freedom”.

The tense stand-off, also involving an Iraqi and one man whose nationality was unknown, started on Monday when Fiji’s Josefa Rauluni, 36, jumped from a building after receiving deportation orders.

Vigneswaran, who frequently visits Villawood and knows the Tamil protesters personally, said he was “very worried” and described the situation as “high-risk”.

“Some of them talk about sacrifice for their brothers who are here, to show how committed they are and how worried they are about going back (to Sri Lanka),” he said.

Refugee advocates said Rauluni’s death had deeply traumatised inmates at Villawood, which houses 300 people and is being expanded to cope with a surge in asylum-seekers arriving in Australia.

“The first person I spoke to, he was a babbling mess and just ended up crying and wasn’t able to say anything other than ‘I saw it, I saw it, I saw it’ and just kept bawling his eyes out,” Brami Jagen told public broadcaster ABC.

Another advocate questioned how staff from private security firm SERCO dealt with the standoff.

“SERCO officers actually put mattresses on the floor and told him to jump,” Sara Nathan told ABC.

The Sydney Morning Herald printed a letter from Rauluni dated September 19 — the day before his death — in which he threatened suicide if he was sent back to Fiji under its current military rule.

“I would rather you put me on a raft and usher me down to the South Pole,” he wrote, according to the Herald. “If you want to send me to Fiji, then send my dead body.”

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor described the death as a “tragedy” and said SERCO would provide a full report.

Vigneswaran said the protesting Tamils had been in Australia for about a year after fleeing ethnic conflict in their home country, and that they feared torture and death if sent back.

The men have reportedly refused food and water for more than 24 hours. Vigneswaran said their asylum claims were being processed.

Source: AFP