New Zealand detainee dies inside Villawood detention centre after apparent altercation

A file image of the Villawood detention centre in Sydney. Photo: Kate GeraghtyThe death of a New Zealand detainee at the Villawood detention centre has triggered calls for independent scrutiny of the network, and prompted fresh questions over Australia’s bid for a United Nations human rights council seat.
Nanjing Night Net

A 42-year-old New Zealand detainee died at Villawood detention centre overnight, the Immigration Department has confirmed.

There have been reports he died after an altercation, however the department said in a statement there were no disturbances at the centre and it was “not aware of any suspicious circumstances surrounding the death”.

The department said staff were alerted to an unconscious man at about 9.45pm on Monday and attempted to resuscitate him.

“Paramedics also treated the man but he could not be revived. The man is suspected to have suffered a heart attack,” it said, adding the mood at the detention centre was “calm”.

The department expressed sympathy to the family of the man and said the NSW Coroner was preparing a report on the death, and police were investigating.

The incident has fuelled concern over the 181 New Zealand nationals in Australian immigration detention centres as of February this year, as the federal government cracks down on foreign criminals.

Recent laws allow for the mandatory cancellation of visas for foreigners sentenced to at least one year’s jail, or convicted of sexual offences against children.

New Zealand Labour MP Kelvin Davis questioned why New Zealanders who had finished their prison sentences in Australia were being further detained in immigration facilities, describing it as “double jeopardy”.

“Some of these people are spending more time in detention than they did in the original prison sentence,” he said.

“If you are thrown into, in effect, another prison without any idea of how long you are going to be there, away from your family with limited access to lawyers, the whole situation is so stressful and upsetting for these people.”

He claimed Australia was flouting international human rights conventions by detaining people “without trial”.

“I don’t believe New Zealand should be supporting Australia to get a seat on the United Nations human rights council until such time as Australia sorts their detention centre mess out. It’s just diabolical,” he said.

Speaking to Fairfax Media from the Villawood centre, fellow New Zealand detainee Vaelua Lagaaia identified the man who died as Rob Peihopa. He believed Mr Peihopa died after an argument with a fellow detainee.

He said Mr Peihopa had spent about 10 months in detention and went to the gym almost every day, adding “it was unbelievable” that he suffered a heart attack.

“His body was there for about five hours with a blanket over the top,” he said.

“[Authorities] gave us the opportunity of saying a farewell to him and doing a haka as they moved the body from the detention centre.”

Labor’s immigration spokesman Richard Marles said the death was “tragic” and called on Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to provide assurances that Villawood was safe.

“Labor expects the government to investigate this incident without delay, so we can determine precisely the circumstances of his death,” Mr Marles said.

He said should Labor win power, it would establish independent oversight of all Australian-funded detention facilities.

A spokeswoman for Mr  Dutton said the circumstances of the death were not believed to be suspicious. She said: “Mr Marles or any other politician trying to make political gain out of this situation is a disgrace.

“An investigation by NSW Police is under way and that should be respected.”

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