In the last few years, we’ve seen a rash of politically motivated suicides. The most well-known case is that of Mohamed Bouazizi, whose suicide to protest mistreatment by a Tunisian government official began the Arab Spring. There have also been a number of incidents where Tibetan Buddhist monks set themselves on fire to draw attention to the brutal Chinese occupation of their homeland. Most recently, a Moroccan woman trapped in a forced marriage killed herself with rat poison. The incident sparked protests against Islamic marriage laws in Morocco.
Now, the Irish Times is reporting the suicide of an asylum seeker from Burundi. The incident occurred in the Netherlands, and supposedly the man killed himself in an effort to increase the chances that his children would be permitted to stay:
Alain Hatungimana lost his wife during the Burundian civil war, in which 300,000 people were killed between 1993 and 2005. Then, five years ago, he managed to escape to the Netherlands with his son, Abdillah, and daughter, Maimuna – hoping, given the political circumstances, to be granted asylum and allowed to start anew.
Unfortunately for Mr. Hatungimana, the government rejected his claim and was planning to deport the family to Burundi. This despite strong support for the family from local government officials.
Mr. Hatungimana became depressed and, the day before he and his children were scheduled to be deported, he took his own life. “Those who treated him [for depression] say they have no doubt the act was a final desperate attempt to prevent his children from being sent back to Burundi – though it remains uncertain whether he’s achieved even that.”
The government has a somewhat different take on the incident: “The immigration ministry in The Hague said it ‘regretted’ the suicide, noting Mr. Hatungimana had had ‘psychiatric problems.’” The government also claimed that Mr. Hatungimana’s deportation was not imminent.
Whether the motivation was depression or a selfless (if misconceived) desire to help his children, Mr. Hatungimana’s story serves as a cautionary tale. While I would not advocate changing law or policy based on the fear that an asylum seeker might commit suicide, Mr. Hatungimana’s example reminds us how serious these cases are. We must do our best to ensure that legitimate asylum seekers receive the protection to which they are entitled under international law.