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Another refugee suicide: mandatory sentencing must end

Blog post by Senator Lee Rhiannon

I join Senator Sarah Hanson-Young in expressing condolences to the family and friends of Daya Jayasakara.

Daya committed suicide at the Villawood Detention Centre yesterday. For two years since arriving in Australia from Sri Lanka Daya experienced the horror of the Labor government’s detention policy. Now he is dead.

Sarah details why no one needs to be in a detention centre for two years because ASIO has said it can do security checks in a matter of days.

Daya’s death would be deeply felt by so many of the Villawood detainees and the Tamil community.

Daya lived in what’s called the community compound at Villawood. Our paths crossed briefly when I was at the birthday party of the one year old son of his neighbours the Ragavan family.

When I wrote about that visit I described how the living quarters “may look like a regular suburban house but it is effectively a prison, behind massive wire fences and heavy security checks”.

I remember how happy the Ragavan children were when Daya arrived and swept the youngest up in his arms. That was a happy day.

This week Daya requested leave to attend a religious festival. His request was denied and then he committed suicide.

It is disturbing that this latest suicide occurred only a few weeks after the federal government announced that many refugees will be given visas and allowed to live and work in the community.

Refugee activist Renee Chan, who visited Daya last Sunday, described him as one of the "stronger individuals in detention".

She said: "He liked to play and joke around. He was able to be positive about the future; he had already been found to be a refugee so in some senses, he had greater reason to be hopeful than many other people in detention."

These were beautiful words to read about a young Tamil man who came to Australia with the hope of a new life. The words also troubled me as I thought of the impact Daya’s death will be having on other Villawood detainees.

Daya had been moved from the high security section of Villawood to what is called the community houses. But it is still effectively a gaol.

Thousands of detainees are locked up behind barbed wire. This is an ugly, troubling time in Australia’s history. Mandatory detention must end. That is the only way to stop the suicides and the self harm.

This week started with the ABC Four Corners program on refugees that highlighted the high number of suicides and incidents of self harm in Australia. This government must change its policy.

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