A 23-year-old Iranian asylum seeker is in a very serious condition after setting himself alight in protest in front of visiting United Nations officials on Nauru.
Confirming what he described as an “unfortunate” incident, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the man would be airlifted to Australia for medical treatment on Wednesday night.
“His outlook is not very good at all,” Mr Dutton told reporters in Melbourne.
Mr Dutton declined to say whether there was a link between the man’s action and the visit by UN refugee officials.
However, the Nauruan government said in a statement it was a “political protest to coincide with the visit by representatives from UNHCR”.
The man, who was named as Omid by Guardian Australia, had reportedly said: “This is how tired we are. This action will prove how exhausted we are. I cannot take it anymore.”
Refugee groups claim four other people on Tuesday night tried to self-harm by swallowing washing powder.
“If people think that through action of self-harm or harming a member of their family that is going to result in them coming to Australia and staying here permanently, that will not be the outcome,” the minister said.
Nauru police are also investigating reports two Iranian women have gone missing on the island.
“There’s some suggestion that people may have departed by boat, but I don’t have any confirmation of that,” Mr Dutton said.
Ian Rintoul, from the Refugee Action Coalition, said Nauru was in “complete social meltdown”.
“The protests and the attempted suicides reveal the sheer desperation of refugees and asylum seekers left in limbo for almost three years,” he said.
“Manus has to close and Nauru has to close.”
Mr Dutton said the two facilities were crucial to stopping people-smuggling and preventing deaths at sea.
Officials from the Australian and Papua New Guinea governments held talks on Wednesday following the declaration by PNG’s Supreme Court that the Manus Island facility is illegal.
“Like everybody, I want to see people off Manus and off Nauru, out of the regional processing centres and back to their countries of origin or back to third countries,” Mr Dutton said.
“(But) the government’s position is very clear and that is people will not be permanently settled in Australia.”
Greens leader Richard Di Natale said it was ironic that the government kept saying seeking asylum in Australia was illegal when a court had found the government was acting illegally.
* Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78