A man in Sydney, believed to be suffering from a mental illness, set himself on fire on Friday (28 July) outside the Department of Immigration and Border Control.

NSW Police did not reveal the identity or background of the man, but only said he is "a deeply disturbed and upset individual". The reason for the self-immolation attempt was also not immediately clear.

The incident reportedly took place at around 1.30pm local time (4.30am BST) on Lee Street near Central Station in Sydney where the man poured petrol over his body and set himself alight as a mark of protest. Police negotiated with him for 10 minutes, but failed.

Emergency services immediately doused the flames with a fire extinguisher before NSW Fire and Rescue hosed him down. The man was taken to a hospital with superficial burns to his thighs, Australian Associated Press reported.

"I'm not at liberty to discuss what his issues were, but he was protesting at the immigration department this afternoon and he's a person who suffers mental illness," Detective Superintendent David Donohue told reporters in Sydney. He added that the man was unlikely to face any charges.

"As you'd appreciate, this could have been a lot worse had police not acted so quickly and put him out. At its highest, he would have killed himself.

"We're more concerned about his mental health status and we'll be treating it as such," he added.

An eye witness reportedly told Nine Network that the man was screaming "I want to stay".

Another witness told the Australian news agency that people were evacuated from the immigration department's building as the shocking incident unfolded. There were about 50 people lined up at the office to have their passports done.

"By the time he did it (set himself alight) they'd corralled him into the underpass so he wasn't really visible to everyone," the woman said.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.