A friend of a Kiwi who died in a Sydney detention centre has described the final moments before he collapsed and died inside the Australian facility earlier today.

MP Kelvin Davis said the name of the dead detainee was Rob Peihopa. He described him as a man in his 40s who was quite fit.

Mr Davis said he received a phone call at 3am from a person who knew the man, saying he had passed away inside the detention centre.

Friend Vaelua Lagaaia has told the New Zealand Herald, despite efforts of guards and emergency services to revive his mate, Rob Peihopa, could not be saved and passed away.


His friend had gone to a neighbouring unit at the centre to visit a couple of the Kiwi boys but was soon heard crying out, desperate for help.

"He yelled out for help to the officer - he felt something was wrong - so the officer ran to his aid and tried to administer CPR after he called for an ambulance. When the ambulance arrived they couldn't revive him."

A Department of Immigration and Border Protection spokeswoman today confirmed a 42-year-old New Zealand national died in the Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney overnight.

She said staff were alerted to an unconscious man at about 9.45pm and attempted to resuscitate him. Paramedics also treated the man but he could not be revived. He was suspected to have suffered a heart attack.

His death had now been handed to the New South Wales coroner.

Mr Lagaaia said the unexpected death of such a quiet, well-liked inmate had left everyone inside the centre stunned.

"I know that he loved his family very much and it's a sad day for everyone here," he said.

"We're just feeling really sorry for his partner and kids and family back in New Zealand."

"It's a tragic thing to happen."

Mr Lagaaia said Rob always worked out at the gym and was a popular figure among detainees.

"Rob was very quiet. You only heard him raise his voice when the Chiefs played," he said.

"He was really easy to talk to and he loved his family very much."

He said there may have been an argument between detainees before a massive heart attack took its toll.

"I heard from whispers that there might have been an argument. I guess more and more about what happened will come to light."

He blamed the death in part on living under the constant threat of deportation.

Despite having a young family who visited frequently, Mr Peihopa never knew when he might be sent back permanently to New Zealand .

"I think the stresses in this place, and the anxiety levels that everyone has, played a part in him having a heart attack.

"Something like this was bound to happen purely because of the stress levels that you encounter in a place like this."

The Australian Immigration Department today said the centre remained calm today and support services were available to all detainees and staff.

The Department expressed its sympathy to the family of the dead man and would co-operate fully with the coroner.

As this matter was now subject to a coronial inquiry the department would not be making any further comment.

Mr Davis said he did not know the circumstances surrounding Mr Peihopa 's death.