INTERNATIONALTOP NEWS

Indian asylum-seeker sets refugee camp on fire near Australia, face charges

Port Moresby

An Indian man who tried to kill himself by setting fire to his room at a refugee camp in Papua New Guinea faces charges of arson and attempted suicide, police have told reporters.

Punjabi asylum seeker Ravinder Singh, aged in his 30s, locked himself in a shipping container room at a camp on Manus Island on Friday and started a blaze that engulfed two other rooms before being brought under control.

Manus provincial police Commander David Yapu said late Sunday that Singh — who sustained burns to his face and right hand — had been questioned and would be charged, but was evacuated to Port Moresby for medical treatment.

“We will wait for his return and lay charges,” Yapu said, indicating authorities may instead charge Singh in the capital.

Singh is one of roughly 500 refugees and asylum seekers stuck in Papua New Guinea, having been stopped from reaching Australia.

Under hard line policies, Australia turns back anyone trying to arrive in the country by sea — including refugees fleeing wars and unrest as far afield as Sudan and Iranian Kurdistan.

The refugees and asylum seekers on Manus had initially been held at an Australian detention centre, but are now detained in camps run by a private contractor as they await resettlement.

As they are blocked from resettling in Australia, Canberra tries to transfer them to third countries such as the United States. But the process is slow, leaving some to languish in the camps for years.

AFP visited the facilities last year, finding difficult conditions and widespread accounts of depression.

The re-election of Australia’s conservative government has prompted a rash of suicide attempts, as people inside the camps try to draw attention to their plight.

Rights groups and the United Nations have condemned Australian policies.

“It is abhorrent that rather than help a man so clearly in need of mental health support, the authorities are considering pressing charges against him,” said Graham Thom of Amnesty International Australia.

“Until the Australian Government brings these people to safety, any blame for injury or deaths on Manus and Nauru lies firmly at their door.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has argued the policy is necessary to deter people smugglers and prevent deaths at sea.

Shortly after Friday’s incident, the Australian government said the matter was being dealt with by Papua New Guinean authorities.

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