Immigration

Inquest to probe why it took more than a day to get Nauru refugee to burns unit

Omid Masoumali needed urgent care but it took 31 hours for the Australian government to send him to a burns unit. Source: AAP

An inquest beginning on Monday will examine why it took more than a day to medically evacuate a refugee from Nauru to Australia after he had set himself on fire.

A coroner will investigate why it took 31 hours to medically evacuate a refugee from Nauru to a specialist burns unit in Australia after he set his clothes on fire as a protest against offshore processing conditions.

Twenty-four-year-old Omid Masoumali died from multiple organ failure shortly after arriving at a Brisbane hospital in April 2016.

His protest was in front of a visiting UN refugee agency (UNHCR) delegation but the coronial inquest will not examine Australia’s obligations to or treatment of refugees.

Omid Masoumali set himself alight early in 2016, and later died from his injuries.
Omid Masoumali set himself alight early in 2016, and later died from his injuries.
Supplied

Five-day inquest

Queensland coroner Terry Ryan will scrutinise if more could have been done to prevent the death, along with the health and medical evacuation services provided.

The inquest is set down for five days from Monday 25 February.

"The inquest into Omid’s death may not achieve all that the family or the broader community may hope," counsel assisting Megan Jarvis told a pre-inquest hearing last October.

Ms Jarvis said his death was not described as "self-immolation" because of uncertainty over whether Mr Masoumali intended to die.

Iranian refugee Omid Masoumali died in a Brisbane hospital after setting himself alight on Nauru.
Iranian refugee Omid Masoumali died in a Brisbane hospital after setting himself alight on Nauru.
AAP

Graphic mobile phone footage captured his verbal protest, the moment he set his petrol-doused clothes on fire and the aftermath when he staggered around badly burned in Nauru’s hospital.

"This is how tired we are. This action will prove how exhausted we are. I cannot take it any more," he can be heard saying on video before being engulfed by flames.

Mr Masoumali and his fiancee arrived by boat on 13 September 2013, and were sent to Nauru.

Demonstrators in Melbourne rally, calling for politicians to bring refugees from Nauru and Manus Island to Australia.
Demonstrators in Melbourne rally, calling for politicians to bring refugees from Nauru and Manus Island to Australia.
AAP

The Iranian couple were then granted refugee status in December 2014.

'Lessons can be learnt'

"A young man lost hope, he lost a chance for a better future and ultimately, he lost his life and a young woman lost her partner," said Human Rights Law Centre’s Katie Robertson, who is representing Mr Masoumali’s partner identified as ‘MO’ by the court.

"Nothing can change the past. But lessons can be learnt. Changes can and must be made."

Mr Masoumali was taken to Nauru’s hospital at about 10am on April 26 but the plane did not arrive to medevac him to a specialist burns unit in Brisbane until the next morning.

He was admitted to the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital at about 3pm on April 27.

"What we know is that quick evacuation is extremely important when dealing with patients with serious and complex injuries, like those sustained by Omid," said the law firm representing Mr Masoumali’s partner, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers.

Mr Masoumali was taken to Nauru’s hospital at about 10am on April 26.
Mr Masoumali was taken to Nauru’s hospital at about 10am on April 26.
AAP

"It is therefore vitally important that the medical evacuation process works properly."

An autopsy found he suffered burns to almost two-thirds of his body, had a hypoxic-ischaemic brain injury due to lack of oxygen and all his limbs exhibited severe tissue damage.

Detained by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Mr Masoumali’s case is classified as a "death in custody" under Queensland law, requiring a mandatory inquest.

He is one of 12 men to die since offshore processing resumed on Manus and Nauru in 2012.

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