A refugee who set himself alight on Nauru and later died received care ‘well below’ the standard in rural Australia, a coroner has found.
An Iranian refugee who set himself alight in front of United Nations officials on Nauru would have had “greatly increased” chances of survival if emergency care on the island was better, a coroner has found.
Omid Masoumali was just 24 when he died from organ failure in a Brisbane hospital, two days after setting himself on fire on the island in 2016.
The 2019 inquest was told the incident unfolded after Mr Masoumali’s partner, Pari, was unhappy after meeting with a visiting United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees official.
Mr Masoumali returned to the area where the UN meetings with refugees were taking place and set himself alight after fuel was placed on his clothing.
Before igniting the fuel, he spoke of his frustration, saying he was “tired, miserable and exhausted” at their living conditions, the inquest was told.
Mr Masoumali suffered severe burns to more than 50 per cent of his body and was taken to the Republic of Nauru Hospital, where attempts were made to treat his burns.
He went into cardiac arrest but was stabilised and flown by LifeFlight Australia from Nauru to the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.
He arrived 31 hours after sustaining his burns, but by that time his condition was irretrievable and he died the next day.
Queensland State Coroner Terry Ryan said the level of care Mr Masoumali required could not be provided at the Nauru hospital, even though staff did their best with limited resources.
Mr Masoumali also could not be transferred to a hospital with the necessary equipment and clinical skills in time to treat his burns.
In his ruling, Mr Ryan accepted Mr Masoumali’s care before he was flown to Brisbane was “inferior” to what he would have received in rural Australia.
“The standard of emergency medical care available in Nauru was well below that which would be expected in rural Australia,” he said on Monday.
“It was clear on the evidence that the clinicians at the Republic of Nauru Hospital did not have the necessary clinical skills, equipment, or facilities to deal with Omid’s injuries.
“If Omid had received appropriate monitoring and ventilation before he was transferred by Life Flight, his chances of survival, while not assured, would have been greatly increased.”
Mr Ryan said the Brisbane hospital team had no other options available to them to save Mr Masoumali by the time he arrived.
“The outcome in Omid’s case was inevitable considering the serious injuries he had sustained, the skills of those treating him on Nauru, the facilities available at Republic of Nauru Hospital and the lengthy delay before he could be provided with a higher level of care,” he said.
Mr Masoumali and his partner arrived by boat on Christmas Island in 2013 and were transferred to Nauru in a regional processing centre until December 2014 when they were granted refugee status.
They were released from detention and allowed to settle in Nauru, living in self-contained accommodation in the Nibok settlement.
At the time of Mr Masoumali’s death, the couple had been in limbo, not knowing what would happen to them for 959 days, apart from not being able to settle in Australia.
The inquest was told that Mr Masoumali tried to book an appointment with a psychologist three days before his death.
That he was not contacted to clarify why he wanted the appointment was an “inadequate” response, the coroner found.
Mr Ryan accepted that in the more than five years since Mr Masoumali’s death, circumstances on Nauru had changed “significantly”.
But authorities needed to provide a clearer future for refugees.
“I consider that there is a need to provide more certainty to refugees to ensure those who are successful in their asylum applications are resettled in third countries expeditiously and that refugees are given some assurance that will be achieved,” Mr Ryan said.
“I recommend that the commonwealth work with the government of Nauru to achieve that outcome.
“This would not undermine the objective of Operation Sovereign Borders and would likely see fewer requests for medical transfers off Nauru on mental health grounds.”
Mr Ryan extended his condolences to Mr Masoumali’s partner, family and friends.
“Sadly, Omid’s hopes for a better life with his partner were never realised,” he said.
“Omid started his journey in 2013 as an optimistic and perhaps naive 22-year-old.
“Within three years he had died a painful death in a Brisbane hospital after struggling to come to terms with the reality of an indefinite period on Nauru.”