Revealed: shocking death toll of asylum seekers in Home Office accommodation
Twenty-nine asylum seekers have died in Home Office accommodation so far this year – five times as many as those who have lost their lives on perilous Channel small boat crossings over the same period.
The Guardian obtained the figure in a freedom of information response from the Home Office, which does not publish deaths data. The identities of the majority of those who died have not been made public and the circumstances of their deaths are unclear.
Many asylum seekers are in the 20-40 age group and are fit and healthy when they embark on what are often physically and emotionally gruelling journeys to the UK.
One of the most recent deaths was that of Mohamed Camera, 27, from Ivory Coast. He was found dead in his room in Home Office accommodation in a north London hotel on 9 November.
Camera had been complaining of back pain shortly before he died and had travelled through Libya en route to the UK. He had recently arrived from Calais on a small boat.
One of his friends who travelled from Calais with him told the Guardian: “He was a nice, sociable person. He was smiling when we reached the UK because he believed that now he was going to have another life.”
A Home Office spokesperson confirmed the death and officials said they were “saddened” by it.
Another man, 41-year-old Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah Alhabib, who fled war-torn Yemen, was found dead in a Manchester hotel room on 6 August.
Alhabib travelled on a small boat with 15 other people from Yemen, Syria and Iran. After they were picked up by Border Force, Home Office officials detained a group at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire for three days before moving them to the hotel in Manchester.
One of the asylum seekers who was in the boat with Alhabib told the Guardian at the time: “All of us on these journeys, we have lost our country, lost our family, lost our future. When we got into the boat in Calais we felt the sea was the only place left for us to go.”
An inquest jury found on 30 November that the death of Oscar Okwurime, a Nigerian man, as a result of a subarachnoid haemorrhage was considered “unnatural” and that neglect contributed to his death.
The Scottish Refugee Council has called for all 29 deaths to be fully and independently investigated. In September, a group of Glasgow MPs also called for a fatal accident inquiry into three deaths that occurred in the city.
The people who died were Mercy Baguma, from Uganda, who was found dead with her toddler by her side, Adnan Olbeh, from Syria, and Badreddin Abadlla Adam, who was shot dead by police, after he stabbed six people including a police officer.
Meanwhile, those who lost their lives in the Channel included Abdulfatah Hamdallah, a young Sudanese refugee, as well as a family of five – Rasul Iran Nezhad, Shiva Mohammad Panahi and their children Anita, nine, Armin, six, and 15-month-old Artin, who drowned trying to cross to the UK in October 2020.
Clare Moseley, the founder of the Care4Calais charity, said: “It’s shameful that more refugees die here in the UK, in Home Office accommodation, than do so in Calais or trying to cross the Channel. Refugees are the world’s most resilient people. Many have crossed the Sahara desert and made it through the hell of Libya, facing unimaginable hardship to get this far. But the way we treat them in this country is cruel.
“Our government doesn’t give them the basics of life like adequate food and clothing. It locks them up in military barracks and keeps them isolated and depressed in hotels. It keeps them under constant threat of deportation, instead of processing their asylum applications promptly.”
Graham O’Neill, the policy manager for the Scottish Refugee Council, said: “After the recent tragedies in Glasgow we are not shocked many have died in the UK asylum support system.”
He added that there was no Home Office public policy on deaths or support for funeral costs or repatriation of the body, nor any discernible learning process to prevent sudden or unexplained deaths. “The Home Office must rectify this and home affairs select committee and the chief inspector ensure they do,” he said.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are always saddened to hear of the death of any individual in asylum accommodation. This can be for a number of reasons, including natural causes or as the result of a terminal illness.
“The health and wellbeing of asylum seekers has and always will be our priority. We will continue to work closely with a range of organisations to provide support to those that need it and where necessary we will always cooperate fully in any investigation into the cause of an individual death.”
The revelation comes as a high court judge ruled on Monday that the Home Office was in breach of its duties to protect the human rights of asylum seekers against homelessness.
Judge Robin Knowles also found the Home Office was responsible for wholesale failure to monitor and implement a £4bn contract awarded to several private companies over a 10-year period leading to unlawful delays in provision of accommodation.
Freedom of information responses from the Home Office obtained by the Scottish Refugee Council found that, between January and March 2020, 83% of Home Office properties to accommodate asylum seekers had defects and 40% of the defects were so serious that they made the properties uninhabitable.
The defects were identified by the Home Office’s own inspectors.