Death trap: the human cost of the war on asylum

October 4, 2004 — Press release

Written by Harmit Athwal

The IRR publishes today a roll call of death of the 180 asylum seekers and undocumented migrants who have died either in the UK or attempting to reach the UK in the past fifteen years.

No section of our society is more vulnerable than asylum seekers and undocumented migrants. Forced by circumstances beyond their control to seek a life outside their home countries, prevented by our laws from entering legally and from working, denied a fair hearing by the asylum system, excluded from health and safety protection at work, kept from social care and welfare, vilified by the media and therefore dehumanised in the popular imagination, their hopes of another life are finally extinguished.

90 died taking dangerous and highly risky methods to enter the country. With legal barriers in place to prevent them securing visas or work permits to enter legally and sanctions applying to above-board carriers, the desperate stow away on planes and lorries or attempt to cross the channel in makeshift boats or cling to trains. The number recorded here is probably only a fraction of those who have died in this way. Our figures rely on news reports and by virtue of the subject matter these deaths are not news.

42 died as an indirect consequence of the iniquities of the immigration/asylum system – either by taking their own lives when claims were not allowed, by meeting accidental deaths as they sought to evade deportation, during the deportation itself or by being prevented from travelling to the UK for specialist care. Out of these:

  • 34 died at their own hand, preferring this to being returned to the country they fled, when asylum claims are turned down. And compounding the process is the fact that some of those in detention and known to be traumatised and particularly vulnerable appear not to have been provided with the medical (especially psychological) support they needed.
  • 4 died accidentally as, in terror at what they presumed to be the arrival of deportation officials, they took evasive action.
  • 1 person died during the deportation process itself, when she was asphyxiated as officers used 13 feet of tape to subdue and quieten her.
  • 2 people died after being prevented from travelling to the UK for medical treatment.

5 died in prison, police or psychiatric custody, where racist stereotypes of the dangerous Black man appeared to induce the use of reckless control and restraint methods or there appeared to be medical neglect of their physical and psychological welfare.

28 died in the course of carrying out work, which, by virtue of its being part of the ‘black economy’ carried particular dangers and no protective rights. Once again, the numbers reported here are probably a gross underestimation as workrelated deaths of people who are ‘illegal’ will often go unreported.

15 died on the streets of our cities at the hands of racists or as a consequence of altercations which had a racial dimension. Very often the victims had been moved via the government’s dispersal system to areas of the country where they were particularly isolated and vulnerable to attack.

Related links

Download the full report: Death trap: the human cost of the war on asylum by Harmit Athwal (pdf file, 612kb).

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

Comments

October 7, 2004
Dr Juliet Cohen:

Could Mr Athwal aanswer some questions about these figures? I would really like to know if he thinks these numbers represent the real total or are based on only those deaths reported in the news? How were the figures obtained? I am interested in doing my own further research in this area so would welcome a chance to correspond. I work part time for the Medical Foundation for the Care ofVictims of Torture.

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