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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Springvale Commonwealth Bank fire

They all arrived at once. Dandenong Hospital's emergency department director Rachel Rosler cleared out the ER wing and they were ready and waiting.

"We didn't really know what was going to happen" she said. "People were on ambulance trolleys and chairs all being assessed by medical staff....their faces and necks were all black, all exposed skin covered in soot."

They were all victims of a 21 year old refugee who said the Commonwealth Bank had given him the run around and he had had enough.  Because he wanted them to pay, he was responsible for injuring twenty seven people, including children, two of whom are currently still in hospital fighting for their lives.

CCTV footage shows Nur Islam, a Burmese refugee who arrived by boat in 2013, then aged 17, leaving the bank and walking past the Asmara Cafe with an empty plastic container to a service station and returning with it full of brown liquid.  Witnesses allege he then poured the liquid over himself and on the floor of the bank before setting it alight and running around on fire.

It's a sad tale.  He has no relatives in Australia and his bridging visa prohibits him for working, but he is entitled to benefits of $430 a fortnight from Centrelink.

His housemates, other refugees from Burma, said they noticed the change in his personality as he became more and more frustrated with his immigration status.

When his mother told him his sister at home was sick and needed help to pay her medical bills, he was distraught and his housemates pooled $500 to help him.  

But last month his welfare payments were cut off and he was told he had to renew his income support information but when he went to Centrelink to have the problem sorted out, he became agitated and didn't wait, he left saying the 'line was too long.'

It's alleged that his case officer told him his welfare had been approved, but when he went to the bank, there was nothing in his account.  He went back week after week, until finally he snapped. 

His poor English didn't help him at the bank, he begged them to fix the problem because he didn't have enough money to buy food.

Nur Islam spent time on Christmas Island and then at a detention centre in Weipa. He moved into the share house about two months ago.

Mr Joseph who lives in the house first met Nur three years ago in detention.  "We stayed together in the camp for one month" he said. "After that he was released and when I was released, I came here to Springvale."

"Then two months ago, he had no place to stay and because we are all Burmese people, we helped him."

But Mr Joseph became concerned when he saw how he was behaving.  He started talking to himself and would pace back and forth in the backyard in the dark and thought there were spirits and ghosts in the house. 

The Rohingya are a Muslim minority group living in Myanmar and are one of the most persecuted people in the world.

Melbourne mother Phalla Neary Khmer was inside the bank with her three children when Mr Islam entered the bank, doused himself with fuel and set both himself and the bank on fire.

She said two of her friends managed to escape but she and her children were trapped inside the bank when its emergency door locked them and several others inside.  "I thought I was going to die" she said.

Junior Dean

She said they owed their lives to brave onlookers including a quick-thinking father of twelve, New Zealand man Junior Dean who sprinted down a nearby arcade and charged into the bank's rear entrance and helped the people out.

It was there in a rear laneway that he caught the man and held him there until police arrived.

So if someone at the bank or someone at Centrelink or his case officer had taken pity on the boy and helped him resolve his problem with the system, would it have come to this?