An asylum seeker from Iran this morning took two cans of petrol into the Icelandic Red Cross headquarters in Reykjavik, covered himself in the fluid and threatened to set fire to himself. He later told police he did it out of desperation.
The man, 53 year-old Mehdi Kavyan Pour, took a taxi to the Red Cross office with two cans of petrol. The taxi driver did not know what was in the containers, but told Visir.is that it smelt like his car’s petrol tank had started to leak.
Once inside the building, the asylum seeker made his threat and staff called the emergency services. Both the police and the fire brigade were dispatched, along with a trained negotiator. Midway through the negotiation, the man poured the fuel on himself and tried to light it. Staff members were also splashed and unconfirmed reports say a small amount of smoke came out from the building.
Pour did not manage to catch himself on fire and nobody was hurt. At that time police decided to arrest him immediately. He was taken the the central police station in Reykjavik, Visir.is reports.
This is the second time Pour has made the news: in 2008 he and three others went on hunger strike in protest at how long their asylum applications were taking to process. He said he would rather die of hunger than be returned to Iran, where his life was in danger following an information leak from his former job tapping the phones of ordinary citizens, and the subsequent deaths of his colleagues. Now, nearly three years later, he is still waiting.
The Red Cross is not in charge of processing asylum applications in Iceland; but as a humanitarian charity it is a good place for an asylum seeker to make his point. Also, as the Red Cross is not a public sector organisation, Pour might dare hope the penalty for his stunt will be lighter and that the publicity generated worth the risk.