Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
18 October 2010updated 27 Sep 2015 2:11am

Asylum seeker deaths documented in new report

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

By Samira Shackle

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.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

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.

Content from our partners
A global hub for content producers, gaming and entertainment companies in Abu Dhabi
Insurance: finding sustainable growth in stormy markets
Why public health policy needs to refocus

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.