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Australia tells Somali asylum seekers to go home if they prefer it

Three Somali asylum seekers who say they would rather return home to a death sentence than remain in Australia after three years in detention were told by the government Wednesday to go if they want to.

Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock accused them of trying to pressure him by suggesting detention in Australia is worse than returning to Somalia.

The three wrote to the immigration department saying they want to return to Somalia after being locked behind razor-wire fences at Port Hedland detention centre since arriving in Australia in November 1997.

"Because of the depression, trauma and anxiety and mental pressure, we are afraid to commit suicide or lose our mind," the letter said. "Therefore, we do prefer to go back to Somalia and die as innocent victims."

The Uniting Church, which is trying to help the three by airing their grievances, says they have already lost members of their families to violence in Somalia and would face persecution and death if they returned.

However, Ruddock told ABC radio the men had been through the Federal Court and the Refugee Tribunal twice, and while there were no immediate plans to deport them, they could leave Australia if they wished.

He said if the suggestion was that circumstances in Somalia were preferable to detention in Australia then it appeared an obvious effort to pressure him in to allowing them to stay.

"It's not a nice place to be, I would be the first to acknowledge that, because essentially governments as we know it don't exist in Somalia," he said.

"But whether or not individuals returning to Somalia would be targeted is a separate issue." .


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