By Jill Fraser
A man who set himself on fire at a suburban bank has been identified by a member of Australia's Rohingya community as an asylum seeker from southern Myanmar.
Habib Habib told Anadolu Agency Saturday that “Noor” had been worried about changes to the government's asylum policy, which may have impacted on whether he would be able to remain in the country.
“He was struggling financially and for the past two years he has had mental issues because he’s been in the community for three years and the government has not invited him to apply for a visa,” Habib told Anadolu Agency.
“We are a small community so we all know each other. We are in shock."
According to media reports, asylum seekers who don’t receive a letter from the immigration department offering them Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) status by the end of the year could be sent home.
The Herald Sun reported Saturday that the 21-year-old had arrived in 2013 at the age of 17 on one of 300 boats carrying more than 20,000 asylum seekers.
He was then transferred to a detention center on Christmas Island before being granted a bridging visa, which allowed him to temporarily live in the community while his refugee status claim was processed.
On Friday, 27 people, including several children, were injured -- some critically -- when the man walked into the bank in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city, and started a fire.
The Australian newspaper reported that witnesses saw badly burned victims run screaming and that the suspect appeared distressed.
“This guy just came into the bank and poured petrol and started lighting up. I’m so lucky I got out,” it reported a witness as saying.
Pamela Curr, formerly with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, told the ABC that contacts have told her that the man had been waiting for a letter from the Immigration Department offering him a TPV.
The ABC reported a source as saying that asylum seekers who don’t receive a letter by the end of the year could be returned to their home countries.
Curr claimed that the Department of Immigration has recently fast-tracked the processing of about 30,000 asylum seekers in the community, creating uncertainty and concern about their fate.
"With the fast-track the department are now speeding through we know there is going to be a tsunami of people who will have no right to work or no income," she said.
"These are people who have been living in the community, some with work rights and some without."
She noted that a recent escalation of violence against Rohingya communities in Myanmar has raised fears among Australia’s asylum seeker community.
The ABC reported Saturday that one of those injured remained in a critical condition in hospital.
Australia has yet to officially confirm that the man was an asylum seeker.