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"You came to us for protection and then we killed you. For that I am deeply ashamed and sorry."

Dana Affleck is a refugee advocate and founder of Road to Refuge. Here she shares her memories of Fazel, the asylum seeker whose death has triggered rioting on Christmas Island.

This gentle, wonderful man, Fazel Chegeni, has died under suspicious circumstances on Christmas Island after already being through hell and back both in Iran and in Australia.

I knew him from visits at MITA (Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation) and late night dinners. I remember his sweet, quietly playful nature, how he always put on a brave face for us and his easy going laugh.

Fazel arrived by boat seeking protection in Australia in October 2010. It is now November 2015. Fazel was confirmed as being a refugee by the Immigration Department and had security clearance.

In 2011, he was involved in a fight in a detention centre that saw him bashed despite not actually lifting a finger himself, as evidenced by video footage. Despite that, this made him a “person of interest” (no charge or conviction) to the authorities, further elongating his detention.

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Fazel tried to end his life twice while in immigration detention. Image via Getty.

In the prosecution, Scott Morrison, who was Minister at the time, went so far as to hire a QC to run the case in the Magistrates’. An expensive and political decision focused on PR and political outcomes rather than justice and due process. He was given a good behaviour bond. However, while the good behaviour bond meant that the criminal justice system allowed him to live freely, the Immigration Department had other plans and Fazel’s time in detention stretched on.

He tried to end his life twice while in detention in Melbourne and Brisbane. After his attempt in Brisbane, rather than receiving proper care and support, Fazel was sent to one of the most brutal detention centres in Australia: Christmas Island.

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Meanwhile, his good behaviour bond had finished. As far as advocates who worked with him know, he received no mental health care and on top of battling serious depression and suicidal thoughts, Fazel had a medical condition that prevented him from sleeping.

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Image: Supplied.

There are conflicting reports as to how Fazel died. Regardless, we know that he should not have been on Christmas Island in the first place. He should have been released from detention years ago. He should have received proper medical and mental health care and support. He should have been accommodated in the community in Melbourne where he had friends. We know that his death was absolutely avoidable.

Our attitude towards people who seek safety in Australia has dehumanised people like Fazel to the extent that their deaths are less tragic, their pain less painful and their lives less important. That is what killed Fazel. No matter what comes out of an investigation into his death, we remain ultimately responsible.

Rest in Peace, Fazel. You had a life ahead of you. You risked your life to escape torture in Iran. You should have been given a chance to rebuild and create the life you wanted for yourself. Instead we detained you, oppressed you, denied your humanity and eventually killed you. You came to us for protection and then we killed you. For that I am deeply ashamed and sorry.

Dana Affleck is a refugee advocate and the founder of Road to Refuge.

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