Charities raise alarm over suicides of young asylum seekers in UK | Immigration and asylum

Dozens of charities have called on UK government ministers to make sweeping changes to support young asylum seekers and refugees after up to a dozen were identified to have taken their own lives.

Forty-six different charities dealing with issues of asylum, children and mental health, have written to the health minister Nadine Dorries, who has responsibility for suicide prevention. They highlight the alarming number of suicides they have discovered among teenage asylum seekers after fleeing persecution in their home countries, leaving their families behind and making difficult journeys to reach safety in the UK.

The letter from the 46 charities, including the Refugee Council, the Children’s Society and Mind, calls for an urgent and independent inquiry into deaths in the asylum system.

The Guardian has previously reported on a group of four teenage Eritrean boys who killed themselves after coming to the UK seeking sanctuary. But research by the Da’aro Youth Project, which was set up in response to their deaths, has discovered more than double that number of deaths by suicide of unaccompanied teenage asylum seekers, with many in the last year. All were either in the care system or care leavers at the times of their deaths.

Some were awaiting decisions on their asylum claims and feared they would be refused and forcibly returned to the conflict zones they had fled from, some had their ages disputed and were accused of being adults before being brought back into the care system, some were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, some had drug or alcohol problems, and some had difficulty accessing mental health care.

Benny Hunter, the coordinator of Da’aro Youth Project, said he believed the cases uncovered could be the tip of the iceberg because there is no requirement for coroners to record nationality or immigration status of deaths they deal with. While deaths of children in care are reported to the Department of Health and Social Care by local authorities, deaths of care leavers do not have to be reported.

Inquests have been held into some of the deaths, while others are awaited. Some inquests have been thorough but, according to Hunter, two inquests he attended were brief, lasting half an hour.

The letter calls for better awareness of this issue from local authorities and a requirement for coroners to record nationality and immigration status.

Factors identified as common to this group include traumatic journeys to the UK, poor care from local authorities in some cases, the stress of dealing with the asylum system as an unaccompanied teenager, and the devastating impact of separation from families.

“We are deeply saddened by the tragic deaths by suicide of young people arriving in the UK, seeking asylum,” said Hunter.

“Without publicly available data, we cannot know how many other young people coming to the UK seeking sanctuary have gone on to take their own lives. Without change we fear more young people will lose hope.”

A government spokesperson said: “The government’s national suicide prevention strategy makes clear that asylum-seeking children and young people need tailored approaches to address their mental health needs and every local authority has a suicide prevention plan in place.

“We will be providing more funding this year to support local authorities to further strengthen their plans. We are investing £2.3bn a year into mental health services by 2023-24 – the largest increase in mental health funding in NHS history – including an additional £57m to support local suicide prevention plans and establish suicide bereavement support services in all areas of the country through the NHS long-term plan.”


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Publish date : 2021-07-19 10:11:00

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