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Wednesday, 27 September, 2000, 10:04 GMT 11:04 UK
Australia 'worse than Somalia'

Immigrants are often housed in camps in the outback
Three Somali asylum seekers have asked Australian immigration officials to send them home.

They say they prefer possible death and torture in Somalia to enduring the harsh conditions in Australia's immigration detention centres.


It is a dark day in Australia's history when vulnerable individuals chose possible death over beautiful Olympic Australia

Church spokesperson
Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said the Somalis had been through the immigration process twice since they arrived in Australia three years ago, and that there were no immediate plans to deport the three men.

But he said they could leave Australia if they thought life would be better in Somalia.

Somalia has no central government and hundreds of thousands have died in the past decade in fighting between different factions.

Suicide fear

The three wrote to the immigration department after being kept behind barbed-wire fences at the Port Hedland detention centre since arriving in Australia in November 1997.

Somalia
Somalia: Ruled by armed factions
In their letter they wrote: "Because of the depression, trauma and anxiety and mental pressure, we are afraid to commit suicide or lose our mind.

"Therefore, we do prefer to go back to Somalia and die as innocent victims."

An Australian church says the three have already lost members of their families to violence in Somalia and face persecution and death if they return.

"It is a dark day in Australia's history when vulnerable individuals chose possible death over beautiful Olympic Australia," said Uniting Church spokesperson Christine Cargill.

Pressure

But, the minister told ABC radio that he felt their comments were an attempt to pressure him into allowing them to stay.

"It's not a nice place to be, I would be the first to acknowledge that, because essentially governments as we know it don't exist in Somalia," he said.

"But whether or not individuals returning to Somalia would be targeted is a separate issue."

Australia's use of detention centres has been heavily criticised but the government says it is the only way to make sure the refugees do not disappear while their applications for asylum are being assessed.

About 100 Middle Eastern asylum seekers rioted early in September at another detention centre causing millions of dollars of damage and injuring 13 camp guards.

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