MORE people have died while housed at Home Office asylum-seeker accommodation in the first six months of this year than in the whole of 2021, The Civil Fleet can reveal.
Twenty-one people, including two newborn babies, died while being housed by the Home Office between January 1 and June 30 this year, figures in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request show.
That is a death rate of 3.5 people per month at the Home Office’s facilities, which are operated by outsourcing firms Clearsprings Ready Homes, Serco, and Mears Group.
Last year, the Home Office recorded 19 deaths (1.5 deaths per month) at its asylum-seeker accommodation premises, data provided to The Civil Fleet in a prior FOI request shows.
“The Home Office must take urgent action to improve the conditions of refugees in the UK. These people have experienced some of the worst horrors imaginable, and the way the government is treating them is a disgrace.”
The average age of the 14 males and seven females who passed away while the Home Office was assessing their asylum cases was 44.9-years-old.
Like last year, this is 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.
Excluding the newborn babies — one a Kuwaiti Bedouin girl who died following a premature birth in the Midlands & East England region, the other a Syrian boy housed in Scotland who “passed away shortly after being born” from a “medical condition noted before birth” — the average age jumps to just 52.1-years-old.
Twelve of the people who died were from countries in Asia, eight from African countries, and one from Trinidad and Tobago.
Nazek Ramadan, director of the migrant-led advocacy group Migrant Voice, described the situation for people in the government’s asylum accommodation as “inhumane.”
“[They] are kept in limbo for months on end. They are denied the right to work, must survive on a few pounds a day and cannot start rebuilding their new life,” Ms Ramadan told The Civil Fleet.
“The conditions of the hotels and homes where they are housed are often poor, with insect infestations and leaks.
“It is no wonder that it has a devastating impact on the mental health of many people who may have already experienced trauma on their journey to the UK.
“Unfortunately, these figures show that the issue is about more than a few isolated cases.”
Causes and locations of the death
Most of the adults who died in Home Office asylum-seeker accommodation died from medical conditions.
Six people died from cancer: a 50-year-old Vietnamese man, a 72-year-old Afghani woman, a 40-year-old Iraqi man, a 60-year-old Zambian woman, and a 53-year-old Bangladeshi man.
A 34-year-old Iranian man died from a brain illness. A 66-year-old Pakistani man passed away following a heart procedure. A 43-year-old Cote D’Ivore woman succumbed to heart disease. Liver failure took the life of a 68-year-old Kenyan woman. A 63-year-old woman from Senegal died from organ failure. And a 79-year-old Indian man perished from a perineal abscess.
The Home Office marked two asylum seekers as having died from terminal illnesses: a 58-year-old Sri Lankan man, and a 56-year-old Afghani man who was on life support.
Two young men took their own lives: a 25-year-old from Eritrea and a 31-year-old from Egypt.
The cause of death for three others was listed as “to be confirmed.” The Home Office said that “this could be because the coroner has either not confirmed the reason, or the information has not yet been submitted.”
Nine of the deaths (1.5 per month) occurred in facilities run by Serco — which is the government’s accommodation provider for the Midlands & East England and the North West regions.
Clearsprings Ready Homes, which is the private firm responsible for the South East and Wales, had seven deaths, or 1.1 per month. Eleven people died in its facilities last year.
The five people who died in the Northeast, Yorkshire & Humberside region and Scotland were kept in accommodation run by Mears Group.
“We’ve seen providers like Clearsprings and Serco try to unlawfully evict our clients, fail to fix power-cuts — leaving mothers and babies cold and hungry for days — and deny our clients medication and care,” said Zehrah Hasan, advocacy director at Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI).
“It is despicable that people’s lives are put at risk like this, whilst private companies line their pockets.
“If this government introduced fair and fast asylum decision-making, placed people in safe, decent housing, and allowed people seeking asylum to work, it would go a long way towards helping more people live happy, healthy lives.”
The research Corporate Watch said: “Private companies should not be invested in the care of vulnerable people. All too often we see these kinds of statistics whenever welfare is outsourced to profit-making bodies. The hostile environment is a direct attack on people’s physical and mental health.
“During 2022, we’ve heard reports of insect-ridden accommodation, lack of basic services like electricity, and insufficient food.
“These conditions show that profit is being prioritised over the welfare of residents. The Home Office is paying private companies to act as its slum lords.”
Alarm Phone activist Jacob Berkson told The Civil Fleet that the increase in deaths is no surprise.
“Asylum accommodation has always been inadequate, serving only to enrich unscrupulous landlords and the vultures who feed on the entrails of the state by punishing people for seeking safety.
“It has become much worse for two reasons: One, the use of hotels as initial accommodation. And, two, the interminable delays.
“People, individuals and families, are held in semi detention in hotels for months or years. They are given less than £9/week and forced to eat reheated crap or starve.
“Staff control residents movements, search rooms and treat people as criminals. It would be unbearable for people without any trauma. It leads to ill health, self harm and suicide.
“You can now expect to wait months for a screening interview, well over a year for a substantial interview, and another year for a decision. All this time you are stuck in a hotel or inadequate, often unsanitary house and forced to live off a pittance.
“There are some simple solutions. Grant status to everyone without papers. You can do it to commemorative that former head of the commonwealth if you think that it will make it more palatable.
“Let everybody work and claim mainstream benefits. People will sort out their own housing.
“Open the Ukraine scheme to all refugees anywhere.
“Stop caring that people move. Humans are great. Diversity is good. Mobility is freedom.”
The Home Office has been approached for comment.
The Civil Fleet sent the FOI request to the Home Office on July 8, asking for the number of deaths, the cause and location of each, and the ages, nationalities, and genders of each person.
A month later, a Home Office official said in the reply: “I can confirm that between the 1st of January and the 30th of June 2022, 21 Asylum Seekers died whilst they were residing in Home Office accommodation.
“18 deaths were due to medical conditions,” he said, though the data later showed that two of these were in fact suicides.
“[A]nd three deaths do not presently have a cause of death, this could be because the coroner has either not confirmed the reason, or the information has not yet been submitted to the Home Office.”
The official claimed the Home Office could not divulge the cause and locations of each death nor the ages, nationalities and genders of each individual, because “this information could result in the person, family members and others involved in their case, being identified,” and sited section 40(2) of the FOI Act as justification for this.
However, the same official had provided this information on the 19 people who died in Home Office asylum-seeker accommodation in 2021 when The Civil Fleet requested it earlier this year.
“I have carefully considered your comments and consulted with the responding unit,” another Home Office official told The Civil Fleet last week after it requested an internal review.
“I consider that the Home Office’s original response to your request was incorrect in relation to part 2 of your request.”
The official confirmed that section 40(2) of the FOI Act did not expect the information requested because “information about a deceased person does not constitute personal data and therefore is not subject to the UK GDPR.
“The information can be disclosed and accompanies this letter.”
Top image shows a graveyard [Pic: Scott Rodgerson / Creative Commons]