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19 people died in Home Office asylum-seeker accommodation in 2021

Close to two people died on average per month while in the Home Office’s care last year, figures provided in a freedom of information request show

AT LEAST 19 people, including a two-year-old boy, died inside Home Office asylum-seeker accommodation in 2021, The Civil Fleet can reveal. 

Sixteen men and three women died at Home Office asylum accommodation facilities across England and Wales, according to figures provided in a freedom of information (FOI) request.

The average age of those who died in these facilities last year was 40.3 years of age, far below the 79.3 years of age the Office for National Statistics states as the average life expectancy at birth in the UK in 2018 to 2020. 

The figures put the average monthly deaths in these facilities, provided by outsourcing companies Clearsprings Ready Homes, Serco, and Mears Group, at 1.5 deaths per month. 

The research group Corporate Watch said the deaths reveal the Home Office and outsourced accommodation contractors have “a complete disregard for the lives of 55,000 refugees living in their accommodation.”

“Insect infestations, no electricity, water leaks, walls caving in and insufficient food – is the daily reality of refugees living in this type of accommodation in 2022,”  a spokesperson for the group told The Civil Fleet

“Meanwhile, the Home Office’s contractors rake in record profits, such as Clearsprings Ready Homes’ reported profits of £4.5 million in 2020. 

Corporate Watch has been writing about this issue for over a decade now. There is no transparency or accountability by the Home Office or the outsourced accommodation contractors: Clearsprings, Serco, and Mears Group.”

The causes of death

The two-year-old boy, the Home Office data shows, died of “natural causes related to numerous health issues.” His nationality was listed as Pakistan. It seems he survived the journey to Britain, but not its asylum procedures. 

The Home Office would not say in which asylum accommodation he, nor any of the others, died in. But it did list his death as having occurred in the Midlands and East of England region. Accommodation services there are run by Serco. 

The data provided by the UK Home Office

Three people died of cancer; a 56-year-old man from Guinea-Bissau, a 43-year-old Sudanese woman, and 52-year-old Iranian man. 

Two men died from a suspected heart attack: one, an 82-year-old from El Salvador, and the other an Eritrean at just 24 years old. 

A 41-year-old man from Afghanistan died from a neurological illness. The Home Office did not expand on this, nor on any of the other causes of death. 

Two men took their own lives. A 23-year-old man from Namibia and a 45-year-old man from Kuwait. The Da’aro Youth Project, a community-led organisation supporting young refugees from Ethiopia and Eritrea, warned in 2021 that at least 11 teenagers who arrived unaccompanied into Britain have killed themselves in the past five years. 

The Home Office lists the deaths of 10 people as “to be confirmed.” A coroners report into the deaths of one of these people, a 27-year-old man from Sudan who died in July at the Crown Plaza Hotel, list the cause of death as “sudden unexpected death in epilepsy.”

The real figure?

The data the Home Office provided only includes those who “were in asylum accommodation at the time of their death.” Therefore, anyone who died off the premises, in hospital for instance, is not included in the data, meaning the number of people do died while in the government’s care could in fact be higher. 

Omar Ezeldin Ali, a 24-year-old Sudanese man who drowned near to Dover Harbour in February 2021 while waiting for his brother to cross the Channel, was not included. 

Neither was Henok Zaid Gebrsslasie, a 23-year-old Eritrean who took his own life while staying at a mental health facility in Coventry in August, nor the 19-year-old Afghan man who did the same outside his Birmingham accommodation in April, and more. 

An investigation by the human rights charities Liberty and the Scottish Refugee Council last year found that 33 people had died in the first eight months of 2021 while housed under four sections of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. 

Refugees systematically housed in harsh conditions

“Those people escaped from wars and persecution from their homelands, and they wished for nothing more than sanctuary to rebuild their lives and forget the painful past,” Kenan, a Syrian refugee and founding member of the Life Seeker Aid charity, told The Civil Fleet.

He spent two months at the Penally Training Camp, a former military barracks in Wales that the British government charted to Clearsprings Ready Homes in 2020. It was closed in March 2021 after an independent inspection found the camp was “impoverished, run-down and unsuitable for long-term accommodation.” 

Kenan said the Home Office “systematically” houses asylum seekers in harsh conditions, that are very harmful to their mental and physical health. 

“Worst of all,” he said, “it left them waiting in an endless limbo, controlled by private contractors and subcontractors who were not trained to deal with the weak, traumatised and vulnerable people in their care. 

“As a result, many of them did not survive.”

A duty of care

Hannah Marwood, Care4Calais‘ access to legal aid team manager, said it was shameful that so many refugees have died in Home Office accommodation. 

“More refugees die here than in Calais or trying to cross the Channel,” she told The Civil Fleet.

“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 they are treated in this country is cruel.

“Our government doesn’t supply adequate food and clothing. It locks people up in military barracks and keeps them isolated and depressed in hotels. 

“Too many are left in a state of anxiety because their asylum applications aren’t processed promptly. It’s inhumane and things need to change.”

Mary Atkinson, Campaigns Officer at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) said the numbers represented a tragic loss of life. 

“No one should die trapped in limbo and waiting months or even years for the Home Office to make a decision on their case, and in housing that is unfit for purpose,” Ms Atkinson said. 

“The Home Office has a responsibility and duty of care towards people seeking protection in the UK. 

“It must now answer questions about its relationship with Clearsprings and other accommodation providers, and fully investigate each loss of life, to ensure that nobody dies under these circumstances again.”

The Home Office has been asked to comment. 


Top image shows the UK Home Office headquarters in London [Pic: Steve Cadman / Creative Commons]

Published by Ben Cowles

Is a journalist and podcaster

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