‘Depressed’ Afghan refugee sets himself on fire outside UNHCR office in Medan

An Afghan refugee set himself on fire in front of the UNHCR office in Medan, North Sumatra on Nov. 30. Photo: Video screengrab
An Afghan refugee set himself on fire in front of the UNHCR office in Medan, North Sumatra on Nov. 30. Photo: Video screengrab

An Afghan refugee set himself on fire in the North Sumatra capital of Medan this morning, in what is reportedly an attempt to bring attention to the plight of asylum seekers in limbo in Indonesia.

Footage of the disturbing incident, taken in front of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office, has been making the rounds online. In what appears to be a form of protest, the refugee, identified by his initials AS, can be seen doused in gasoline and ready to light a match, while other refugees surround him in an attempt to stop him from hurting himself.

Unfortunately, AS managed to light the match and the flame covered his body in an instant. Amid his blood-curling screams, a man with a fire extinguisher eventually put out the flame, which burned AS for some 30 seconds.

Juma, who spoke on behalf of Afghan refugees in Medan, told local media outlets that many asylum seekers have been driven to extreme measures as they are unable to cope with uncertainties surrounding their future.

“This is not the first time people have set themselves on fire. Fourteen people have committed suicide, and we have saved six (from suicide) before this incident. This is the seventh person we have saved. They are stressed, depressed, and have been living amid uncertainty in Indonesia for seven to 10 years,” Juma said.

“[AS] has suffered mental problems for 5 years, and he has repeatedly asked for help from IOM (International Organization for Migration) and UNHCR, but they’ve never listened. In the end, he grew impatient and came here to set himself on fire.”

AS reportedly suffered burn injuries covering 70 percent of his body, and has been admitted to a local hospital.

Thousands of asylum seekers from war-ravaged countries have found themselves in perennial transit in Indonesia as they await passage to their intended destinations, such as Australia. In Indonesia, refugees are excluded from the country’s legal realm and, to some extent, society.


Also read — ‘Excluded from Indonesian society, refugees are vulnerable to homelessness, suicides’

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