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Deaths in Home Office asylum-seeker accommodation more than doubled in 2022 over the previous year

Human rights groups condemn government’s ‘abysmal asylum policies’ after The Civil Fleet reveals that 46 people passed away while housed by the Home Office last year

FORTY-SIX (46) people, including five newborn babies, died while housed at Home Office asylum-seeker accommodation in 2022 — more than double the number of deaths in 2021.

Home Office figures provided to The Civil Fleet in response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request shows that 21 people died in the first six months of last year — more than the 19 deaths for the whole of 2021 — and a further 25 people died in the last six months of 2022. 

Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, Steve Valdez-Symonds, described the rise in deaths at Home Office asylum-seeker accommodation as devastating. 

“Unlike the tragic fatalities on journeys to reach the UK, these deaths have received very little attention,” he told The Civil Fleet.

“The government’s cruel and dishonest rhetoric about people crossing the Channel by boat has obscured the true impact of their abysmal asylum policies – an impact that the Prime Minister and Home Secretary’s latest immigration bill is set to make even worse.”

Of the 45,756 people who crossed the Channel in small boats last year, four people are known to have died doing so.

Despite all of this, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made stopping them one of his government’s main priorities. 

Last week, he and Home Secretary Suella Braverman announced the Illegal Migration Bill, which, among other things, seeks to bar all those who cross the Channel in small boats from ever being able to claim asylum in Britain. 

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said the proposed legislation amounted to “an asylum ban” that would be “a clear breach of the Refugee Convention and would undermine a longstanding, humanitarian tradition of which the British people are rightly proud.”

An opposition amendment to the Bill to stop the government from barring small boat arrivals from claiming asylum was defeated by 312 votes to 249 in Parliament on Monday night. 

Fiona Crombie, clinical services manager at Freedom from Torture’s Glasgow Centre, said the sharp increase in deaths last year was a damning indictment of this government’s disregard for the wellbeing of the men, women and children under its care.

“A growing proportion of the torture survivors we treat are languishing in Home Office accommodation while their asylum applications are left in limbo,” she told The Civil Fleet.

“Living in uncertainty in hotels, survivors feel their lives are on pause, unable to make even simple plans to integrate or commit to the area, exacerbating the symptoms of trauma and increasing presentations of depression and suicidal ideation.

“Rather than addressing the appalling conditions in which people fleeing torture and war are forced to live in this country, this government is ramping up the hateful rhetoric and pushing ever more extreme anti-refugee legislation which will make life even harder for some of society’s most vulnerable. 

“It is up to caring people across this nation to make their voices heard and tell the government: not in our name.”

British Home Secretary Suella Braverman (left) with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

‘A billion-pound industry’

Thirty-two (32) men and 14 women died all over Britain at a rate of 3.8 deaths per months while housed at the Home Office’s lodgings, which are contracted out to outsourcing firms Clearsprings Ready Homes, Serco, and Mears Group. 

Fifteen (15) people died in Northwest England, and the Midlands and the East of England region while staying at housing operated by Serco. 

There were ten deaths in Scotland and the Northeast England, Yorkshire and Humberside region. Housing in these areas is run by Mears Group.

Twenty-one (21) people — almost half of all those who died in 2022 — in Southern England and Wales were being housed by Clearsprings Ready Homes when they died.

“Home Office outsourced asylum-seeker accommodation providers Mears Group, Serco, and Clearsprings Ready Homes, face no accountability,” a Corporate Watch spokesperson told The Civil Fleet.

“The companies cash in on ten-year contracts worth a total of £4 billion of taxpayers’ money to provide migrant accommodation. This accommodation is often substandard – with insect infestations, leaking pipes, and a lack of electricity. This accommodation is run for profit. And these companies are thriving. 

“In 2022 Clearsprings directors were paid a total of nearly £1.1 million, and Serco reported £217m in operating profit. 

“Meanwhile, according to its interim results, Mears Group paid £6.1m in dividends to shareholders in the first six months of 2022.

“Year after year, reports of deaths of migrants in the Channel, UK detention centres, or outsourced asylum seeker accommodation evidence the brutality of the UK border regime, a billion-pound industry.”

Nazek Ramadan, director of the charity Migrant Voice, told The Civil Fleet that the current situation is untenable.

“We know from asylum seekers we have been in touch with that they are kept in hotel rooms for many months, often in poor conditions, and without the possibility of rebuilding their lives,” she said. 

“Access to health services is often difficult.

“Many have told us their mental health has been severely affected by this limbo, not knowing how long they will be waiting to hear a decision, watching their lives being wasted, forced to live in poverty, not allowed to work and support themselves in dignity.

“This puts them under severe distress and leads to mental and physical health deterioration.

“What’s tragic is that it doesn’t have to be like this: we can do better. What we need is a new, humane asylum system that respects people’s dignity and basic human rights.”

A photograph of the former Napier military barracks in Folkestone where asylum seekers have been housed by the Home Office

Who died?

Excluding the five newborn babies, the average age of all those who died in 2022 was 45.2 years old. Just like in 2021, that 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. 

Over half of the deceased came from African or Middle Eastern countries, (Nigeria, Eritrea, Namibia, Sudan, Angola, Botswana Cameron, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Kenya, Libya, Senegal, Zambia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria).

Eight of the deceased were from Asian countries (Afghanistan, Vietnam, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka). 

Three Russians, a Trinidad & Tobagan, a US citizen, a man from Georgia, and a newborn baby with a Honduran mother were also among the dead. 

How did they die?

Of the five newborn babies, two of them passed shortly after birth. One of them, listed as a Kuwait Bidoun boy, was born prematurely. The other, a Syrian girl, died shortly after birth due to a medical concern that had been noted prior to birth. 

A heart condition took the life of a Honduran baby boy in August. While the cause of death for two Namibian girls in two separate dates and locations is currently unknown — one has not been considered suspicious, while the police are investigating the other, the Home Office data says. 

There are many different causes of death listed for the remaining 41 adults. Ten people died from illnesses, organ failure or heart attacks. Six died from cancer. One person died in a road traffic incident.

Three people were listed as having taken their own lives, a 25-year-old Eritrean man, a 40-year-old man from the USA, and a 45-year-old Russian man, though the cause of death is still to be determined. 

The latest episode of The Civil Fleet Podcast — also available on most podcast apps

A 21-year-old Russian woman was seen jumping into a canal in November before she was found dead. And three others (a 29-year-old Iranian man, a 31-year-old Egyptian man, and a 45-year-old Georgian man) are also suspected to have taken their own lives. 

The causes of death for the remaining 16 people were not explained in the data, and only one of these was listed as under investigation. 

“This news is awful and would be shocking if it was not already well established that asylum accommodation was not fit for human habitation,” said Jacob Berkson, an activist with the distress hotline organisation Alarm Phone. 

“The desire to restrict people’s mobility to prevent us from having a future of our own choosing is nothing but racism in its purest form,” he said. 

“The idea that punishing people for resisting, whether that is through criminalising irregular crossings of the channel or paying billions to slum landlords to accommodate asylum seekers, is laughable. 

“Movement is freedom and we will continue to struggle until all can move freely.”

In its original response to my FOI request, the Home Office noted that the information it provided was “taken from a live operational database and as such may change as information on that system is updated.”

Deaths are reported to the Home Office by a third party, “typically [by] the emergency services and occasionally the accommodation provider,” it said, “and initial reports may not contain all details which may emerge over time. 

“These statistics are based on such reports and are therefore provisional, subject to change and are not assured to the standard of official statistics.”

Clearsprings Ready Homes, Serco and Mears Group have been approached for comment. 

Top image shows a candlelight vigil [Pic: Thomas Bormans / Creative Commons]

Published by The Civil Fleet

A news blog and podcast focused on the activist-led refugee rescue and support missions across Fortress Europe

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