November 30, 2012
Meqdad Hussein, at home in Pakistan with his younger brothers and sisters. Source: Supplied
MEQDAD Hussain was only 20 when his mother sent him from the family home in Pakistan to seek out a new life in Australia.
But the young Hazara refugee – who fled persecution in his home country of Afghanistan – died alone in his room after apparently hanging himself with a bed sheet at a remote Cape York detention centre – some 2400km from Brisbane – while he waited for asylum in Australia.
State Coroner Michael Barnes yesterday opened the third day of an inquest into Meqdad’s death, after first hearing evidence in Weipa and Cairns this week.
The court was told the young Afghan refugee died around 7.30pm on March 17, 2011, the same day a decision was made in Canberra refusing him asylum in Australia.
But a case worker who oversaw Meqdad’s incarceration at the Scherger detention centre, near Weipa, insisted there was no way the young refugee could have known about the ”negative decision” through any official channel.
Department of Immigration and Citizenship case manager Cameron Hope told the court he’d been notified of the decision via email ”a few days” after the asylum-seeker’s death.
Mr Hope said it was usual practice for case managers to notify clients of decisions made regarding their refugee status except in some rare circumstances where immigration agents informed asylum-seekers before the Department was able to.
He said he didn’t know whether it was possible Meqdad learned of the ”negative decision” before his death.
”Had anyone accessed his system? Yes, it’s a possibility, depending on when [the decision] had been loaded into the system,” Mr Hope said.
”Other than that, no, I wouldn’t know.”
Mr Hope said he’d never had a one-on-one interview with Meqdad, never saw scars on his arm that may have been an indicator of self-harm and had a large caseload of more than 50 refugees housed at the detention centre.
He could give no account of Meqdad’s mental health and told the court he’d stopped working at the centre shortly after the refugee’s death.
Counsel assisting the Coroner Peter Johns told the court a notebook Meqdad had been practising learning English in was found on the day he died with ”words to the effect” that another refugee had killed him.
Mohammed Ali Mirawkhor, 56, was the man named in the notebook. He told the court he’d shared a room with Meqdad at the detention centre until March 4, 2011 when he moved out to a room opposite the younger man’s.
Mr Mirawkhor told the court he’d been an Inspector with the Pakistani police force for 20 years before he came to Australia via Christmas Island in October, 2010.
He said it was an ”insult” to be accused as Meqdad’s murderer when police had questioned him over the contents of the notebook.
”I don’t know English but a translator told me ‘you may have done something to Meqdad that lead him or resulted in him doing this to himself’,” Mr Mirawkhor said.
He said there was a lot of shame associated with a person committing suicide in the Qu’ran, the religion of the majority of refugees housed at the centre at the time.
”Im my religion committing suicide is very bad and the family would suffer consequences. They would be sad and there would be a lot of problems,” he said.
Another refugee who’d been at Scherger with Meqdad, Mohammed Masumi, told the court he’d last seen his friend at 11.05am on the day he died.
”He’d just gotten out of the shower,” he said. ”His hair was looking wet.”
”My perspective is it was a suicide.”
Meqdad’s family in Pakistan believe their eldest son, of six, had been murdered.
Mr Barnes adjourned the inquest to a date to be fixed.