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Afghan Dies in Australian Immigration Center

FILE - Refugee advocates participate in a protest in Sydney against the treatment of asylum-seekers at Australia-run detention centers, Nov. 18, 2017.

A 23-year-old man who fled conflict in Afghanistan six years ago has died at an Australian immigration detention center. Refugee groups say the death highlights serious concerns about the indefinite detention of asylum seekers.

Emergency services were called to the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation Center late Friday. An Afghan national could not be revived and died. The cause of his death is unknown, but police say it is not being treated as suspicious.

The man reportedly arrived in Australia seeking asylum as an unaccompanied minor in 2013, and had been asking for legal help to obtain a residency visa.

Refugee campaigners believe the tragedy should be the subject of an official inquiry. They say that there are many other Afghan asylum-seekers “languishing” for indefinite periods in detention facilities.

Carolyn Grayden is from the Asylum Seeker Resource Center, an independent organization in Melbourne.

“What is really needed here is a broader inquiry into the circumstances of how he was treated arriving as an unaccompanied minor through a very protracted refugee determination process, a process that has been designed to punish people that arrive by boat,” she said.

Asylum-seekers detained

Australia automatically detains all asylum-seekers while health and security checks are carried out. It has been official policy since the early 1990s, and has the support of both major political parties.

Since 2013, Australia began sending asylum-seekers arriving by boat to detention camps in the South Pacific. A facility in Papua New Guinea closed in 2017 after a local court ruled it was unconstitutional, but hundreds of former detainees remain in the impoverished country. A second center on the tiny island of Nauru continues to operate.

Australia has argued offshore detention saves lives by deterring migrants from making hazardous sea crossings. Critics, though, say the policy is inhumane and breaks international law.

Average detention: 500 days

At the end of May 2019, official government figures show there were 1,270 people in immigration detention facilities on the Australian mainland. Detainees from Iran, New Zealand and Vietnam include asylum-seekers and others who have either breached immigration regulations or have overstayed their visas.

The average period of time for those held in detention was more than 500 days.