Perpetual Insecurity 5a - Leo Seemanpillai


Killing Leorsin Seemanpillai

‘Our government is proactively brutal and intentionally determined to break the spirits of people like Leo, who once imagined they would find protection from oppression in our care.’

Father Pancras Jordan


Leo Seemanpillai was 29 years old when he died by self-immolation in Geelong in 2014. He arrived in Darwin by boat in January 2013 and had been living in the community on a bridging visa for about a year at the time of his death. His suicide was described by then Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison as a ‘tragic incident’. In the days following his death, hundreds of people attended a memorial service for Leo at the church he had become part of. His parents, who live in the refugee camp in Tamil Nadu where Leo grew up, were denied visas to bury their son in Australia.

Some commentators argue that such acts are misidentified as ‘self-harm’—rather they are an extension and material expression of the harms inflicted by the state on the bodies of refugees. It was terror at the prospect of forcible deportation and dread of what awaited him should he be sent to Lanka that so possessed Leo that he made the decision to turn himself into a living pyre rather than face that fate. His friend, Cathy Bond, his Australian mum as he called her, was unshakable in the conviction that it was the fear of deportation that motivated Leo. “He knew what being returned to Sri Lanka meant for him . . . He spoke of nothing else but his terror of being returned.” To burn himself to death was to ensure the impossibility of a yet more agonising fate, to choose the certainty of no-return. Leo was burning his boats. 

Perera, ‘Burning Our Boats‘, 2015


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