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Australian asylum seeker found dead near refugee center

SYDNEY — The body of an asylum seeker who was said to have been suffering depressive episodes was discovered Monday by schoolchildren in Papua New Guinea, near the site of an Australian transit center for refugees, and the police said they believed he had hanged himself.

Manus Island, a part of Papua New Guinea, is home to one of two offshore centers where Australia has been housing asylum seekers intercepted at sea for the past four years. A United Nations report found 88 percent of detainees on Manus who were examined by medical experts last year had depressive disorders.

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The asylum seekers have been sent to Manus and to Nauru, an island nation to the east, as part of a policy that Australia says is meant to deter human traffickers from sending desperate people to its shores on rickety boats, usually by way of Indonesia.

The Australian government has repeatedly said no refugees would be allowed to resettle in Australia, drawing condemnation from the United Nations and human rights groups.

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In June, Australia agreed to a landmark $53 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of current and former detainees on Manus Island.

The discovery of the dead man, who was said to be from Iran, was confirmed by David Yapu, a Manus province police inspector. The police has not released his full identity, citing the continuing investigation.

Yapu said the body was found at the East Lorengau primary school Monday morning, close to the East Lorengau Refugee Transit Center.

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“He was found hanging; a rope was tied around his neck,” Yapu said. “He was found by the schoolchildren, who then alerted their teachers, who then alerted police.”

Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani, who fled Iran and has been detained at Manus since 2013, said the man had been struggling with mental health issues for a year.

Boochani said fellow refugees had petitioned the authorities eight months ago to care for the man but that no action had been taken to ensure his safety.

“They left him most of the time,” Boochani said. “He was hungry and homeless. Nobody cared about him.”

Boochani said he had spoken to Australian news outlets several times about the man’s case.

“I feel so powerless. I really tried to help him,” Boochani said. “I did my best as a journalist. I did my best as a human. I did my best as a friend. I did my best, but he died.”

The rights group Amnesty International said it was “gravely concerned” about how the man had been treated.

“This death is yet another bleak tragedy to arise out of the ongoing suffering and tensions on Manus Island,” Graham Thom, refugee coordinator at Amnesty International Australia, said in a statement. “There must be an independent, impartial, prompt and effective investigation into his death.”

According to an April report from the Australian government, 821 asylum seekers are detained on Manus Island.

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