Racist asylum and immigration policies in the UK have led to the deaths of 77 asylum seekers and migrants over the past four years, according to a report for the Institute of Race Relations (IRR).
More than a third (28) of the deaths reported by the IRR are people suspected or known to have taken their own lives after their asylum claims had been turned down. Seven are said to have died after being denied health care for “preventable medical problems”, seven are said to have died in prison custody, and 15 are said to have died during desperate and “highly risky” attempts to enter the country.
The report, which chronicles the often invisible lives and deaths of asylum seekers as they struggle to gain status in Britain, comes less than a week after the death of Jimmy Mubenga, 46, who died while being deported to Angola, and includes his death. Not all the deaths in the report, which the IRR said was likely to be an underestimate, could be independently verified.
The IRR said the 77 deaths, most of which happened in the UK, were a consequence of “direct racism or indirect racism stemming from” asylum and immigration policies.
Among the seven that the IRR claims died in prison custody are Abdullah Hagar Idris, 18, a Sudanese asylum seeker found hanged in his cell on Christmas Day 2007, after being told wrongly he was to be deported, and Aleksey Baranovsky, 33, a Ukrainian national on suicide watch who bled to death in a cell at Rye Hill, Warwickshire in June 2006.
In June, an inquest jury said failings by the Prison Service and Essex social services contributed to Idris’s death and criticised the way the prison gave him news of his deportation. Last year, a coroner condemned the “appalling and unacceptable conditions” and treatment at the GSL-run prison where Baranovsky died.
Baranovsky, who feared he would be killed by the Russian mafia if sent home, repeatedly harmed himself in protest against his pending deportation after serving a seven-year sentence for burglary.
The report, Driven to Desperate Measures, published yesterday, says the number of deaths of asylum seekers in the community has increased and now averages one a month.
However, it also says that, due to the difficulty of obtaining figures, this is likely to be an underestimate.
Over the four-year period, it recorded one death as having taken place during deportation — that of Mubenga, who died last week as he was being deported to Luanda, escorted by three guards from G4S, a private security company.
Those said by IRR to have died as a result of being denied access to medical treatment include Ama Sumani, a Ghanaian woman who died in March 2008, following deportation from Britain while undergoing treatment for terminal cancer.
Her deportation was described as “atrocious barbarism” by the Lancet medical journal.
It also lists Mohammed Ahmedi, 18, an asylum seeker with a heart condition who died as doctors tried to establish whether he was entitled to UK health service treatment. Gloucester Royal hospital, where Ahmedi died in February 2008 after being treated there, has said treatment was not withheld.
The 77 deaths include seven who died on the streets in attacks “at the hands of racists”, four after deportation back to a country where they feared for their safety, two as a result of becoming “destitute and unable to access services”, and four as a result of often dangerous work in the “black economy”, the report said.
It said that “hundreds if not thousands” of people had perished making desperate journeys to the UK, as stowaways on planes, lorries and ships.
Harmit Athwal, a researcher at IRR and the report’s author, said: “Racism percolates right through the immigration-asylum system — from forcing people to risk life and limb to enter, forcing them to live destitute on the street, prey to violent racist attack. That 28 people died at their own hand, preferring this to being returned, when their asylum application failed, to the country they fled, is a terrible indictment of British justice.
“Asylum seekers are demonised by the mass media as illegals and scroungers and to appease popular racism, governments across Europe, in addition to making access to refugee status much more difficult, have decided to accelerate the deportation of the many who have ‘failed’.
“Such forced deportations of those terrified of being returned to the countries they have fled — often areas in which we are involved and at war — will inevitably lead to more deaths.”—Dawn/ Guardian News Service