Jan 27th, 2004

Iranian refugee torches self in Malaysia

An Iranian asylum seeker set himself on fire Tuesday in an apparent suicide attempt outside the Malaysian headquarters of the U.N. refugee agency, officials said.
He was rushed to a hospital with critical burns to most of his body.
The man came near the entrance of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees' office in Kuala Lumpur shortly before lunchtime, doused himself with petrol and lit his clothes with a cigarette lighter, said UNHCR official Jennifer Ashton.
The UNHCR identified him as Gulam Hassan Anwari, an Iranian living illegally in Malaysia who applied for asylum in November 2001. The UNHCR rejected his claim and a subsequent appeal in late 2002.
Doctors at Kuala Lumpur's main government-run hospital said he sustained severe burns, including internal ones, and were "not optimistic about his chances for survival," Ashton told The Associated Press.
Anwari arrived in a taxi with his Malaysian girlfriend outside the UNHCR office, where several Malaysian journalists were waiting for him, Ashton said. He had earlier faxed a note to local newspapers saying he would kill himself, but did not alert the UNHCR.
Anwari, who is about 50 years old, set himself ablaze in front of the stunned journalists, and a UNHCR official ran up to him to put out the flames with a fire extinguisher, Ashton said.
In a letter that he laid on the ground before torching himself, Anwari claimed he was from Baluchistan province on Iran's border with Pakistan.
Anwari alleged in the letter that Malaysian businessmen had recently cheated him of about $200,000. "If I died, I died ... I wish (a) good life for everyone," Anwari wrote in the five-page letter.
Ashton said the UNHCR could not reveal Anwari's specific reasons for wanting refugee status, but most asylum seekers feared persecution if they returned to their countries. The UNHCR turned down his petition because "there were no grounds for the claim," Ashton said.

Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"