He had been diagnosed with severe depression, and doctors wanted him released from Villawood detention centre. But the federal government kept Mr Rahimi detained for almost two years, until what the coroner described as his “sad death”.
Late Iranian asylum seeker Ali Rahimi, with a photograph of his family. Mr Rahimi died at Villawood detention centre of heart failure in 2012. Photo: Supplied
The federal government has rejected Australian Human Rights Commission findings that Mr Rahimi should not have been kept at Villawood, and his family should be paid compensation.
A Fairfax Media analysis shows since the Coalition government came to power, it has refused all 24 recommendations by the commission to pay compensation of up to $400,000 or apologise to asylum seekers for their treatment in detention.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection says in the past five years it has not paid any person compensation as a result of a their immigration detention.
“He was a gentleman, he was a good man – quiet, nice, polite.
“He said ‘I can’t take it any more, I’m going mad, I’m thinking about my wife, my children, they have no income … he was worried.”
The case raises fresh human rights concerns over Australia’s onshore detention network, which in September held 2044 asylum seekers and refugees. The figure included Iranian Fazel Chegeni, who this month escaped the Christmas Island detention centre and was found dead. He was thought to be suffering mental health problems.
Mr Rahimi was an Iranian who arrived in Australia by plane, without a visa, in April 2010. He claimed to have suffered political persecution in his homeland.
He was placed in detention and applied for a protection visa, but it was refused.
The commission said from August 2011, Mr Rahimi appeared to be struggling in detention.
He was diagnosed with major depression and post traumatic stress disorder and psychiatrists urged that Mr Rahimi, who did not pose a security threat, be allowed to live in the community.
“He was under very heavy pressure,” said Majid Rabet, a former detainee at Villawood who befriended Mr Rahimi.
“His personality was really different, he told me all the time ‘I’m thinking about my family’.”
The NSW coroner found Mr Rahimi received appropriate medical care and died of natural causes.
However the commission said it was “not necessary” to keep Mr Rahimi in immigration detention after he received security clearance, and the department “has not explained why Mr Rahimi could not reside in the community or in a less restrictive form of detention while his immigration status was resolved”. It recommended the Commonwealth pay compensation to his estate.
The department said Mr Rahimi’s detention was lawful and there was no legal basis on which to consider compensation.
University of NSW senior psychiatry lecturer Michael Dudley, who treated Mr Rahimi, said he was “absolutely” stressed in detention, and by the prospect of returning to Iran where his brother had been executed.
“There’s certainly a relationship between anxiety, depression and heart disease, that’s well recognised,” he said, adding authorities routinely ignored advice from doctors that vulnerable detainees be allowed to live in the community.
The government was “relying on reliable public indifference to get away with this”, Dr Dudley said.