June 18, 2014
A Tamil asylum seeker who died after setting himself on fire has been mourned by hundreds of people at a funeral service in Geelong.
Leo Seemanpillai had been living in Geelong on a bridging visa for about a year when he set himself on fire last month.
He died in hospital after suffering burns to 90 per cent of his body.
Mr Seemanpillai’s friend Robert was with him when he arrived in Australia by boat.
“He created very meaningful friendships in this country,” Robert said.
“We pray through his peace of soul.”
Mr Seemanpillai’s family were denied a visa to attend his funeral because the Government said there were doubts they “genuinely” intended to stay temporarily.
The service, given in both English and Tamil, was streamed live to the refugee camp in India where they live, and many people took photos and videos to share with friends and relatives who were not there.
A spokeswoman for the Immigration Minister Scott Morrison told the ABC the issuing of documents for other country nationals is a matter for those countries.
“Family members need to hold valid visas to enter Australia. Any application for a visa is assessed by the department against relevant criteria,” she said.
“The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection has no power to intervene in the granting of a visa in the circumstances that relate to the case of Mr Seemanpillai’s brother.”
‘I’ll never forget your happy smile’
Cath Henschke and her husband Robert knew Mr Seemanpillai through the Lutheran Church.
She read out a eulogy Robert had written, describing Mr Seemanpillai as a generous, thoughtful young man who would be greatly missed.
“Our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to his family and many friends,” Mrs Henschke said.
Leo, I’ll never forget you and your happy smile. You cared for so many and set an example for us all.Cath Henschke, friend.
“Leo, I’ll never forget you and your happy smile. You cared for so many and set an example for us all.”
Mrs Henschke said Mr Seemanpillai donated part of his wage to charity and was on the organ donor register.
“As I got to know Leo, he confided some of the horrors of his past and these began to haunt him,” she said.
“He was frightened and increasingly anxious about the prospect of being sent back to Sri Lanka.
“Yet, in between the dark periods we could see the hope that shone in his eyes.”
Tamil priest travels to Geelong to pay respects
One of the Catholic priests who delivered the service, Pan Jordan, is a Tamil who comes from the same district in Sri Lanka as Mr Seemanpillai’s family.
He did not know Leo personally but said he was moved to travel from Brisbane to Geelong when he heard about his death.
“I am very upset,” Father Jordan said.
“This young man must have gone through this terrible agony.”
Father Jordan said Mr Seemanpillai is not the only Tamil asylum seeker concerned about being deported to Sri Lanka.
“The anxiety and the fear they go through is tremendous,” he said.
Earlier this month Scott Morrison told a press conference Mr Seemanpillai had been in regular contact with a case worker.
He said Mr Seemanpillai’s claim for asylum had not been decided.