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Brisbane Tamil priest mourns countryman

Sad farewell: Mourners pray at the grave of Leo Seemanpillai who died on May 31.

Sad farewell: Mourners pray at the grave of Leo Seemanpillai who died on May 31.

By Paul Dobbyn

BRISBANE Dominican Father Pan Jordan travelled to Geelong to concelebrate the funeral Mass of fellow Tamil Leo Seemanpillai.

Hundreds of people attended the funeral for Mr Seemanpillai, 29, who died after setting himself on fire as he awaited the outcome of a claim for asylum, held at the St Mary of the Angels Basilica on June 17.

The service, given in both English and Tamil, was streamed live to the refugee camp in India where Mr Seemanpillai’s family lives, and many people took photos and videos to share with friends and relatives who were not there.

Fr Jordan said the young man came from the same district in Sri Lanka as he did.

In his homily, the Dominican priest blamed “political games” and a “harsh, unjust and cruel policy” for the young man’s death.

“Our government is actively inhospitable, proactively brutal and intentionally determined to break the spirits of people like Leo who once imagined they might find protection from oppression in our care,” he said.

Fr Jordan also quoted from the May statement by Australian Catholic bishops on the issue of asylum seekers.

“They (the bishops) proceed to say it (the government’s policy) is one of dehumanisation and institutionalised cruelty,” he said.

Fr Jordan said that, in the days before Mr Seemanpillai’s death on May 31, the Tamil man was “outwardly upbeat, visiting friends and calling people”.

In the case of Mr Seemanpillai, this was because he believed his final actions would lead to “freedom from all cruel policy and denial of fundamental human rights”.

Fr Jordan said the lesson of the young Tamil man’s life and tragic death was that it was time for Australians to take a stand.

“It is time to consider the Australia we want to live in and the values which we wish to exemplify,” he said.

Early last month, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison told a press conference Mr Seemanpillai had been in regular contact with a case worker.

He said the asylum seeker’s claim for asylum had not been decided.

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