Asylum seeker deaths documented in new report

77 asylum seekers have died in the last four years because of Britain's draconian policies.

A new report by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) has documented the deaths of 77 asylum seekers in the UK, painting a tragic picture of the human cost of Britain's draconian asylum system.

The deaths, which all took place in the last four years, are attributed to racist asylum and immigration policies. The number is rising, with one asylum seeker death each month.

The report makes bleak reading. Of the deaths, more than a third (28) were suicides following rejected asylum claims. Seven people died after being denied healthcare for "preventable medical problems". Seven more died in police custody, while 15 lost their lives during "highly risky" attempts to enter the country. Seven were killed in racist street attacks, four after deportation to a country where they feared for their safety, two as a result of destitution, and four because they had been forced into dangerous work in the black economy.

One 18-year-old Sudanese man hanged himself in prison after being wrongly told he was to be deported. A Ghanaian woman died after being deported while undergoing treatment for terminal cancer. You can read more detailed case studies here.

In life, asylum seekers are often invisible- - forbidden from working yet sometimes cut off from state support. If their claims are rejected, they can drop out of the system entirely and fall into utter destitution, or be vulnerable to exploitation by organised crime. So, too, in death: the IRR says that the figure of 77 is likely to be an under-estimate due to the difficulty of obtaining figures, particularly for those who work illegally in the so-called "shadow economy", or those who die coming into the UK. Some of the deaths could not be independently verified.

The popular characterisation of asylum seekers as "bogus" has gained currency in the last decade, and politicians have played into the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the mass media. This was evident in the televised leader's debates, when David Cameron repeatedly conflated economic migrants and asylum seekers.

This is the central point: seeking asylum is a basic human right, enshrined in international law. It is wholly distinct from economic migration, whereby people relocate to seek employment. For all the talk of Britain being a "soft touch", claims are frequently wrongly rejected the first time round because of an overly stringent interpretation of the Refugee Convention. A huge proportion of these cases are won on appeal, but for these vulnerable people - often isolated and suffering from post-traumatic stress - the strain can be too much, as the suicide figures in this report show. The introduction of fast-tracked asylum claims and deportations will only compound the existing failure to give people a fair hearing.

Rising unemployment and a shortage of housing have fostered anti-immigrant feeling. But to make asylum seekers -- some of the world's most vulnerable people -- suffer more to appease this rising tide of racism is brutal and unjustified.

 

 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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