Asylum Seekers’ Deaths Rise – Charity Calls Out Home Office

The Home Office’s policies on asylum seeker deaths reveal a concerning lack of transparency and accountability, raising questions about the department’s treatment of vulnerable individuals within its care. Here’s the full story.

Intense Scrutiny

The UK has been under intense scrutiny for its treatment of asylum seekers and other immigrants in recent months. Several highly publicized attempts have been made over the years to reduce asylum numbers, from the hostile environment policy enacted by Theresa May to the most recent Rwanda plan proposed by Boris Johnson, which now hangs around the neck of his successor Rishi Sunak like a millstone. 

However, within the last week, The Home Office, responsible for managing asylum seeker accommodation in the UK, has come under scrutiny for the handling of deaths that have occurred within its care. 

Shocking revelations have emerged regarding the department’s practices of informing the families of asylum seekers who have died while under its supervision. 

Families Not Informed

The Home Office admitted that it does not typically notify relatives when asylum seekers die in its facilities. The Home Office expressed reluctance to divulge details of these deaths to the families publicly, citing concerns that it was worried the traumatic news would “endanger their mental health.”

Recent data has underscored the severity of the situation, with 176 deaths recorded since 2020, which equates to around four deaths per week. Alarmingly, this number includes at least 23 individuals who have taken their own lives while under the care of the Home Office during the same period. 

The number of deaths in Home Office accommodation more than doubled in 2022 compared to the previous year, raising alarm bells among advocacy groups and NGOs.

Heightened Risk

Several NGOs have highlighted the heightened risk of suicide among asylum seekers, attributing it in part to Home Office policies such as the establishment of mass accommodation sites like Wethersfield in Essex and the Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland, Dorset.

These policies, critics argue, contribute to a stressful and unstable environment for some of the vulnerable individuals who come to the UK seeking asylum.

The shocking revelation about the Home Office’s reluctance to disclose information about asylum seeker deaths in their custody has come to light through a ruling by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Data on Deaths

The Civil Fleet, a news blog focusing on refugee support missions, has been actively seeking data on asylum seeker deaths under freedom of information rules. 

It was due to the Civil Fleet’s freedom of information requests that the truth about the Home Office’s questionable practices regarding informing the families of their loved ones’ deaths emerged. 

The ICO stated that the Home Office doesn’t typically locate or contact the next of kin when someone dies in asylum accommodation, fearing it could harm relatives’ mental or physical health if they learned through a FoI disclosure.

Lack of Evidence

However, the Home Office acknowledged no evidence of a direct link between disclosures and harm, and in spring 2023, they reviewed the disclosure policy regarding “high profile notifications” for asylum seekers.

Despite the review, the policy of not informing the loved ones of asylum seekers who had died in the Home Office’s care remained in place.

In their ruling, the ICO ruled against the Home Office, mandating the disclosure of missing details regarding asylum seeker deaths. Failure to comply by the specified deadline could result in the department being held in contempt of court. However, the Home Office maintains its right to appeal despite the ruling.

Lack of Transparency

Deborah Coles, director of Inquest, a charity specializing in state-related deaths, has condemned the Home Office’s lack of transparency and accountability. 

Coles stated, “The levels of obfuscation and denial from the Home Office are unparalleled across any other public body. They show utter contempt for people who die in their care and their families. There is clear disregard for their legal and moral responsibility.”

Home Office Response

In response to this damning indictment, the Home Office stated, “Any death in asylum accommodation is tragic and will always be subject to investigation by the police and coroner. When next of kin should be contacted, this will be done by the relevant authority.

Their spokesperson continued, “The Home Office work continually to ensure the needs and vulnerabilities of those residing in asylum accommodation are identified and considered, including those related to mental health and trauma. We are disappointed with the ICO ruling and will be considering next steps.”

Kafkaesque Nightmare

The revelations regarding the Home Office’s refusal to inform families of asylum seekers of their loved ones’ deaths is a Kafkaesque nightmare that, if written into a novel, would be considered too on the nose to print. 

The revelations have raised serious concerns about transparency, accountability, and the well-being of the most vulnerable individuals within a system that already does its best to ignore or explain away the horrors of the UK’s asylum policy.

Though some in government or outside of it may not like it, asylum seekers are human beings, and they deserve the rights all asylum seekers do, as well as the dignity in death that all of us would take for granted.

The post Asylum Seekers’ Deaths Rise – Charity Calls Out Home Office first appeared on Pulse365.

Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / Alexandros Michailidis.

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