Guest post by Harmit Atwal, editor at the Institute of Race Relations.
Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan man, was the 77th person to die as a result of the UK’s asylum policies since 2006. His death, during a deportation involving four G4S guards at Heathrow airport in October 2010, was the first deportation-related death in the UK since that of Joy Gardner, a Jamaican woman, who died in 1993 after being wrapped in over 13-feet of tape. Such deaths are shocking and make headlines. But there are numerous deaths of asylum seekers and migrants in the UK each year which never make the news.
The IRR’s report Driven to Desperate Measures: 2006-2010, documents the deaths of 77 asylum seekers and migrants that have resulted one way or another from UK asylum policies. Asylum policies dehumanise those who come to the UK seeking refuge. Once here such asylum seekers are then vilified in the popular media as scroungers and economic migrants and then, finally, they are, through government policies, forced in to destitution. The crime? Seeking asylum.
The report details the 36 suicides in detention (removal centres and prisons) and the suicides in the community – of those who have self-harmed after being left destitute or after receiving an adverse decision on their claim. Self-harm in removal centres and prisons is on the increase and such attempts are often documented by the authorities in charge. However it is the deaths that occur in the community that are of most concern. The 28 deaths that the IRR documented are probably a gross under-estimate, for information on such deaths is usually very hard to come by – either gleaned from news reports or from information supplied by individuals and groups working with asylum seekers. Furthermore, a recent Freedom of Information request made by the IRR on the number of deaths in NASS-provided accommodation produced a list of deaths by nationalities and, when matched with our cases, we found that many were not known to us, which shows that the number of deaths is far higher than that so far recorded by the IRR.
Others meet their end in different ways. Ghanaian, Frank Odame, died after falling from the balcony of his flat as immigration officials and police officers knocked at his door. Four people died very soon after being deported including Ama Sumani, a Ghanaian woman who was denied life saving treatment for cancer in the UK. At least seven others actually died in the UK after being denied access to healthcare, two others died as a direct result of destitution and a 23-month-old baby died in a fall possibly related to safety failings in a property supplied by a contractor to UKBA.
The IRR also documents the deaths of fifteen stowaways who died taking dangerous risks to try and reach the UK – to join family or countrymen or simply seeking a better life. These young men from war-torn countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq, stow away, in and under, lorries and on ships and trains in desperate attempts to reach the UK.
Driven to Desperate Measures
Driven to Desperate Measures documents the deaths of four migrants, working in unsafe conditions and at the mercy of the black economy which allows little protection to those undocumented workers who seek simply to work to support themselves and their families.
And then there are the deaths of seven people as a result of brutal racism, at the hands of bigoted thugs in attacks on the street. These deaths happen in unprovoked incidents motivated simply by a hatred of ‘foreigners in our midst’ – a hatred which is bolstered every day by the pronouncements of politicians and the hysteria of the tabloids.
The state is in many ways responsible for these deaths, for UK foreign policy cannot be seen in isolation. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are creating the asylum seekers that are washing up on our shores. Resource wars in African countries, fought by multinationals, are creating asylum seekers and migrants who are fleeing to the supposed safety of the West. The British government has a responsibility to those that come to the UK seeking refuge which it refuses to shoulder. Instead it literally throws people to the wolves or throws vulnerable terrified people onto their own resources when they have hit rock bottom and their wits end. They have no way out except suicide.