Fijian dies `suddenly` at Sydney immigration centre

The man jumped from a rooftop hours before he was due to be deported.

Sydney: A Fijian man died suddenly at a Sydney immigration centre, officials said on Monday, as refugee advocates said he jumped from a rooftop hours before he was due to be deported.

Immigration officials said they were helping a police investigation into the "sudden death of a 36-year-old detainee" at Villawood detention centre, on Sydney`s western fringe.

"The Fijian national had been detained at (Villawood) since August 17," the department said in a statement. A spokesman said the "circumstances surrounding his death are not yet clear" and described it as a "tragic incident".

Refugee advocates who had spoken by phone to inmates said the man had "thrown himself from the rooftop" of a building inside the 300-person compound and was believed to have died instantly.

"The other detainees are very distressed," said activist Jamal Daoud.

Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said the man and a younger relative, believed to be his nephew, were due to be deported Monday morning.

"The death of the Fijian man has thrown a stark light on mandatory detention and conditions inside the detention centres," Rintoul said.

"Three Tamil asylum seekers in Villawood have attempted suicide in recent weeks and there have been serious suicide attempts on Christmas Island," he added.

Tamils inside the centre had begun a 24-hour mourning fast for the dead man and were badly shaken after having witnessed him jump, said Rintoul.

Australia has a policy of mandatory detention for asylum-seekers while their claims are processed, and generally holds detainees on the remote Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.

But increased numbers of poor immigrants -- more than 4,000 this year, mainly Asians fleeing conflict and economic hardship -- have forced the reopening of some centres on the country`s mainland.

Canberra last week announced a USD 50 million expansion of mainland facilities to make room for another 900 inmates, after riots and a mass breakout of 80 Afghans from a facility in the far north earlier this month.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard wants to open a regional processing centre for refugees and is in negotiations with neighbouring East Timor about building it there.

Bureau Report