Three deaths in immigration detention
August 4, 2011 — Comment
Written by Harmit Athwal
Is it significant that two people have been found dead in two different detention centres in as many days – and three have died in a month?
All that the Home Office will confirm is that on Sunday 31 July ‘A 35-year-old male being held at Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre died’ and that it is in the ‘process of contacting his family’. As yet the man has not been named, nor has any information on his nationality or the circumstances of his death been released. However, there have been reports from the centre that the man was possibly American. Colnbrook (next to Harmondsworth detention centre close to Heathrow airport) is run by Serco, which also operates the London bike hire scheme and DLR (amongst many other businesses).
Then, on Tuesday 2 August, an as yet unidentified man, who was apparently facing imminent deportation, was found hanged at Campsfield removal centre near Oxford. The centre is run by the private company, MITIE care and custody. Conflicting reports suggest he was either found hanged or that he cut himself with razor blades.
A spokesperson from the Campaign to Close Campsfield, which held a vigil in Oxford following the death, said: ‘This is yet another shocking event in the history of Campsfield House, where innocent people are locked without time limit, and in daily fear of removal to the nightmare conditions that drove them to leave their home country in the first place. Just being locked up in these conditions is enough to seriously affect a person’s mental health.’
Death three weeks earlier at Colnbrook
Shockingly, these two deaths occurred within days of one another and just a few weeks after 47-year-old Pakistani migrant, Muhammed Shuket, died on his way to hospital from Colnbrook on 2 July.
What is happening in detention centres? Are they overcrowded like prisons? Or has the rate of deportations increased? A recent report in the Guardian revealed that people held at Tinsley House (run by G4S) were being taken to the airport for deportation as ‘reserves’ in case others could not be deported. This practice has been termed ‘distressing and inhumane’ by the Chief Inspector of Prisons.
The use of force during deportations has also been highlighted in recent weeks after new research was published which found that seated restraint techniques increased the risk of harm or death, with volunteers who took part in restraint experiments, repeatedly reporting that they were unable to breathe. The research is particularly significant, as it appears that Jimmy Mubenga died after apparently being restrained in such a way during his deportation. (Read an IRR News story: ‘Justice for Jimmy Mubenga’)
Very little is known about the three men who have died in recent weeks and very little will probably be revealed about them and the circumstances of their deaths until their inquests which are unlikely to be held for some years. We must find ways of holding the Home Office and its contractors to account, and we must ensure that such deaths are not forgotten by the passage of time.
Other deaths in immigration detention centres
Below we list the deaths of the fourteen others who have died immigration detention centres since 1989.
- Eliud Nguli Nyenze (15/4/10) A 40-year-old Kenyan man died at Oakington removal centre in Cambridge after apparently suffering a heart attack. Campaigners and other detainees alleged that he had been refused medical care. Following his death a disturbance erupted at Oakington and at least 60 people were transferred to prisons. In the days following the death the private company that runs the centre, G4S, was stripped of its British Safety Council award for its ‘commitment to improving health and safety’. An inquest in October 2010 was told that he had collapsed in his room. Earlier, despite complaining that he wasn’t well, he had been refused paracetamol. An ambulance took twenty minutes to reach the centre and the nurse who went to treat him did not take a defibrillator with her. The Home Office pathologist could find no cause of death but suggested sudden adult death syndrome. The coroner recorded a verdict that he died of natural causes, a verdict Eliud’s family were unhappy with.
- Bereket Yohannes (19/1/06) A 26-year-old Eritrean was found hanged in a shower block at Harmondsworth. According to other detainees at the centre, he was fearful of deportation and found conditions at the centre ‘unbearable’. He also spoke of his intention to take his life. An inquest in March 2007 was told how he had previously tried to take his own life while he was held at Dover removal centre a month prior to his death, and found that he took his own life.
- Manuel Bravo (15/9/05) An Angolan, who was detained in Yarl’s Wood in Bedford with his 13-year-old son, was found hanged in a stairwell on the morning of his 35th birthday and the day he was due to be deported. His young son was transferred to the care of members of his father’s church in Leeds. Campaigners and members of Manuel’s church called for a public inquiry into the death and the ‘illegal detention’ of Manuel who claimed he had not even received a decision on his asylum appeal and therefore could not understand why he had been served with a deportation order. In September 2006 the inquest recorded a narrative verdict that Manuel took his life in the belief that it could secure his son’s future in the UK. (Read an IRR News story: ‘Two asylum seekers took their own lives within 24 hours’)
- Ramazan Kumluca (27/6/05) An 18-year-old Kurdish asylum seeker from Turkey found hanged in Campsfield House. He had been detained for over four months and was said to be depressed after bail was refused. In July 2006, an inquest found that he had taken his own life. Police read out a statement from fellow detainees who spoke of his fears for the future as he faced deportation to Italy.
- Kenny Peter (7/11/04) A 24 year-old asylum seeker died in Charing Cross hospital, nearly three weeks after sustaining serious injuries after jumping from a second-floor landing at Colnbrook. He suffered from mental health problems and while held in detention it was recommended at least six times that he be referred to a psychiatrist – yet this was never followed up. The inquest in September 2006 recorded a lengthy narrative verdict that listed numerous deficiencies and failures by immigration staff, staff at the centre and in the healthcare unit at Colnbrook. (Read an IRR News story: ‘Kenny Peter’s inquest points to asylum failures’)
- Tran Quang Tung (23/7/04) A 35-year-old Vietnamese man found hanged in Dungavel removal Centre, he had been transferred days earlier from Harmondsworth following the disturbance after the death of Sergey Baranyuk. A fatal accident inquiry was told that Tran had been detained on 19 July for breaching bail conditions. The inquiry was told how he arrived in the UK in April 2004 and claimed asylum after having tried to claim asylum in Germany). A nurse who saw him at Harmondsworth did not know what language he spoke nor did she use an interpreter. On 21 July he was transferred to Dungavel by bus with 59 others after the disturbance. Medical staff who examined him at Dungavel were again unable to communicate with him. When an immigration officer served him with his removal notice, for 27 July, she did not have an interpreter with her. A solicitor saw him on the day of his death and was unable to have any ‘meaningful’ discussions as Tran spoke such little English. The fatal accident inquiry recommended that detained people, who did not speak good English should have access to interpreters during interviews and that documents should also be translated.
- Sergey Baranyuk (19/7/04) A 31-year-old Ukrainian was found hanged in Harmondsworth. His death sparked a night of disturbances at the centre and led to all the detainees being transferred to prisons and other detention centres. The inquest was told little about Sergey as very few people could remember him, staff at the centre and immigration staff had very little contact with him in the two months that he was held in detention. He had been assigned to the fast-track system despite having agreed to voluntary return three days after submitting his asylum claim. The inquest jury recorded a verdict that he ‘took his own life’. (Read an IRR News story: ‘Sergey forgotten at Harmondsworth’)
- Kabeya Dimuka-Bijoux (1/5/04) From the DRC, he was held at Haslar for nearly two months and died after collapsing while exercising on a treadmill. Staff attempted to resuscitate him but failed and he was pronounced dead in the gym. An inquest in July 2005 recorded a verdict of death by natural causes. However there were reports that he had died from injuries sustained two months earlier when police and officials from Reliance House immigration centre in Liverpool allegedly attacked him. (Read an IRR News story: ‘Inquest rules asylum seeker died from natural causes at Haslar’)
- Elmas Ozmico (12/7/03) A 40-year-old Kurdish asylum seeker died three days after being admitted to hospital suffering from septicaemia/ necrotising fasciitis. She had arrived at Dover on 8 July 2003 after travelling clandestinely from Turkey; it was during the journey she developed an abscess on her thigh. On arrival in the UK, she claimed asylum and her nephew (with whom she had travelled) requested a doctor and an interpreter. He says this request was ignored, as were subsequent ones. The family spent the night in detention in Dover detention centre and the following day Elmas requested a doctor, but it was not until she collapsed that it was realised that she was very ill and needed an ambulance to take her to hospital. An inquest found that she died of natural causes.(Read an IRR News story: ‘Asylum seeker death in Dover from ‘natural causes”)
- Mikhail Bognarchuk (31/1/03) A 42-year-old Ukrainian was found hanged at Haslar removal centre on the day he was due to be deported. An inquest recorded a suicide verdict. (Read an IRR News story: ‘Haslar – a place of no return’)
- Olga Blaskevica (7/5/03) A 29-year-old Latvian woman was murdered in the family holding area at Harmondsworth by her mentally ill partner, hours before the pair were due to be deported.
- Robertas Grabys (24/1/00) A 49-year-old Lithuanian was found hanged in Harmondsworth on the day he was due to be deported. A report into his death criticised the private company that was in charge of Harmondsworth at the time (Burns International). An internal Home Office inquiry found that the company did not have a formal policy to prevent suicides and that there was insufficient care. (His body was not found for over one hour as guards did not check the room, although he was known to suffer from a depressive illness.) An inquest recorded an open verdict.
- Kimpua Nsimba (15/6/90) A 24-year-old Zairean was found hanged in Harmondsworth, where no one had spoken to him in over four days. An inquest recorded a suicide verdict.
- Siho Iyugiven (5/10/89) A 27-year-old Kurdish refugee burned to death after barricading himself in his cell at Harmondsworth. His asylum claim had failed and he was facing deportation. He and his cellmate went on hunger strike, barricaded themselves in and set bedding alight as a protest. Smoke detectors were not working, few fire extinguishers worked and there were no sprinklers. An inquest recorded a misadventure verdict.
The IRR monitors the deaths of asylum seekers and undocumented migrants and our most recent report Driven to Desperate Measures: 2006-2010 can be read here.
Download the IRR’s report on the deaths of asylum seekers and undocumented migrants: Driven to Desperate Measures: 2006-2010 (pdf file, 432kb)
Read the IRR’s Factfile on the Roll call of deaths of asylum seekers and undocumented migrants, 2005 onwards
Read the IRR’s Briefing Paper 4: Asylum Deaths: What to do next here (pdf file, 232kb)
Endnotes:  Alan Travis, ''Inhumane' act of taking deportation reserves to airport condemned', Guardian, 26 July 2011.  Alan Travis, ' Restraining technique used by officials 'increases risk of death''', Guardian, 27 July 2011.  This listing includes all deaths in immigration removal centres, self inflicted and otherwise. There have also been numerous deaths of immigration detainees in prisons, young offenders institutes and psychiatric hospitals in the UK, for further information, see the IRR's report: Driven to Desperate Measures: 2006-2010, download it here.
The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.