Two asylum seekers took their own lives within 24 hours

September 21, 2005

Written by Harmit Athwal

On Wednesday 14 September, 26-year-old Edmore Ngwenya, a Zimbabwean asylum seeker jumped into a canal in Manchester. The following day, Manuel Bravo, an Angolan who was detained in Yarl’s Wood with his 13-year-old son, was found hanged in a stairwell on the morning of his 35th birthday.

According to the Independent, which ran the story of Manuel’s death on its front page, Manuel came to the UK in October 2001 with his wife Lydia and their two sons Antonio and Mellyu. Manuel and his father were arrested in Angola because his father was a leader of the Association of the Youth Democracy opposing Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos’ regime. Soon after, in August 2001, Manuel’s parents were both killed. As a result, Manuel, fearing for his life, took the decision to leave Angola and left, disguised as a woman. He met up with his family and travelled to the UK , where they claimed asylum. The family were dispersed to Leeds, where they settled.

In October 2002, at his asylum tribunal hearing, Manuel was forced to represent himself after his solicitor failed to show up. According to family friend Rev Alistair Kaye, who attended the hearing, Manuel was told he would be notified of a decision within a month. But it never arrived. Earlier this year, Lydia returned to Angola to care for her orphaned niece and was arrested and jailed for two months. At the time of his death, Manuel who was left to look after Antonio, thought his wife and child were missing. (In fact Lydia is living in another African country with Mellyu.)

Manuel had not received a decision on his claim despite contacting the Immigration Service. According to the Independent, last Tuesday, immigration officials came to check that Manuel was at his home. He became so concerned about the visit that he contacted another firm of solicitors whom he paid £300 – for them to tell him that they could not help. The following morning at 6am police arrived and, after knocking on the door for twenty minutes, kicked it in and took away father and son. They were transferred to Yarl’s Wood for ‘removal’ the next day. While there, Manuel and Antonio spoke to the Rev Alistair Kaye, who has said that Manuel was insistent that he had not received the decision on his asylum claim and could not understand why he and his son were to be deported the following day. On Wednesday morning, the day Manuel took his own life, Rev Kaye received a letter notifying him of Manuel’s asylum refusal. Just twenty minutes later he was being told Manuel was dead.

Manuel’s last words to his son were ‘be brave, work hard, do well at school’. At the time of writing, Antonio is being looked after by Bedford Social Services whom campaigners are asking to act quickly and ensure that Antonio is placed for fostering with friends from the church the family attended, that can care for him in his time need.

A vigil was held at Yarl’s Wood at the weekend to remember Manuel and others who have taken their lives in immigration detention (see IRR News story: Vigil for Manuel Bravo at Yarl’s Wood). Members of Manuel’s church, Christ Church in Upper Armley Leeds, also held a vigil following Manuel’s death, with support from the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds. They are calling a for public inquiry into Manuel’s death.

The Home Office told IRR news that it could not comment on Manuel’s death which would be investigated by the Prisons and Probations Service Ombudsman and that the ‘Immigration Service will work with Social Services to ensure the safety and welfare of the child.’ It has also confirmed that 13-year-old Antonio is safe from deportation, but only until his 18th birthday, when he will have to make a new asylum claim.

Emma Ginn, the North West Co-ordinator of the National Coalition of Anti Deportation Campaigns told IRR News: ‘We are not surprised by yet another death and neither should the Home Office be. It’s obvious why terrified asylum seekers deemed as bogus by the Home Office choose death over deportation. But the Home Office fails to recognise asylum seekers’ accounts of persecution in countries where the Home Office themselves have documented serious human rights abuses. The asylum determination process is little more than a lottery – why else did various MPs have to intervene outside of the legal process to prevent their constituents being deported into Mugabe’s hands?’

Death in Manchester

Little is known about Edmore Ngwenya, the Zimbabwean asylum seeker who died in Manchester, other than what police have revealed: ‘Underwater Search Teams recovered the body of a man, believed to be aged in his 20s, from the canal at Exchange Quay in Ordsall. Police were called to Exchange Quay at approximately 4.10pm in the afternoon [14 September], following reports that a man was standing on chains at the quayside. When they arrived, officers found the man, balancing on the chains that hold the buffer tyres at the side of the canal. Officers encourage him to come away from the canal. He was then seen to step from the chains and into the canal, going under the water. Two officers jumped in after him, while other officers called instructions from the quayside. The man re-surfaced a number of times before disappearing under water.’ The Manchester Evening News reported that witnesses felt officers hesitated in responding to the situation: ‘Everyone in our office was shouting at the police to jump in to save him. These officers looked like they were just not trained to deal with it,’ said a witness. The Independent Police Complaints Commission is conducting a ‘supervised’ investigation into the death.

While we do not know the reason why Edmore Ngwenya, a 26-year-old Zimbabwean asylum seeker, took his own life, it is clear that the list of those fearful of forced return who take their own lives is growing.

We list below the 31 asylum seekers, in detention (immigration removal centres and prisons) and living in the community, that have, in addition to the deaths in September 2005, taken their lives in the last five years.

  • Babak Ahadi, (33), 6/7/05, Iranian asylum seeker who set himself alight at his NASS accommodation in Bristol. He died the following day in Frenchay hospital.
  • Ramazan Kumluca, (19), 27/6/05, a Kurdish asylum seeker from Turkey who was found hanged in Campsfield House removal centre in Oxford. He had been detained for five months and was said to be depressed after a bail application was rejected for the third time.
  • Kenny Peter, 7/11/04, a Nigerian asylum seeker who died in Charing Cross hospital, nearly three weeks after sustaining injuries during an apparent self-harm attempt at Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre. It is believed that on 19 October, Kenny jumped from a landing and sustained serious injuries, from which he later died.
  • John Kanau Manana, (24), 15/10/04, a Kenyan who was found hanged from a ligature in his cell at Leicester prison on 15 October at 3.55. Paramedics were called and attempted resuscitation and he was taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 4.50.
  • Majid Rafieei, 14/10/04, a destitute Iraqi asylum seeker who was found hanged in Langley Park, Sheffield after his asylum claim was refused.
  • Seife Yimene, (24), 26/9/04, an Ethiopian asylum seeker who left a hospital where he had been seeking help and hanged himself. Seife was living in emergency accommodation in Newcastle while his asylum claim was being processed. He became very depressed in the weeks leading up to his death. On the day of his death his friends were so concerned about his health that they took him to the Accident and Emergency department of Newcastle General Infirmary. After seven hours he was reportedly in a ‘catatonic’ state and when he was eventually seen by a Doctor he was told, ‘If you won’t speak then we can’t help’. Seife left the hospital and hanged himself from a tree. (IRR News story: Did undue pressure on an asylum seeker lead to his suicide? )
  • Ako Mahmood Ahmed, (25), 8/04, a Kurdish asylum seeker who died after jumping from a bridge at a Coventry shopping centre. He arrived in the UK in May 2004 and was ‘dispersed’ to Coventry in June. His asylum claim was rejected and he lodged an appeal. However, because of new legal aid limits, Ako was unable to find a solicitor to act for him despite help from Coventry Refugee Centre. As a result, he was faced with destitution on the streets of Britain and the prospect of deportation to Iraq. (IRR News story: Desperate asylum seeker takes own life)
  • Tran Quang Tung, (23), 23/7/04, a Vietnamese man who was found hanged in Dungavel removal centre in Scotland just days after being transferred from Harmondsworth removal centre after the disturbance.
  • Sergey Barnuyck, (31), 19/7/04, a Ukrainian who was found hanged in Harmondsworth detention centre. His death sparked a night of disturbances at the centre and led to all of the detainees being transferred to prisons and other detention centres.
  • Hussein Nasseri, (26), 25/6/04, an Iranian asylum seeker who was found with a gunshot wound two weeks after his asylum claim was refused. Hussein, who was homosexual, fled Iran in March 2000 after being imprisoned for three months for his sexuality. He feared being executed if he was returned to Iran – where homosexuality is a ‘crime’ punishable by death. In June 2004, he received a letter telling him that his asylum claim had been refused. The inquest recorded a verdict of suicide. (IRR News story: Inquest finds asylum refusal was motive for gay Iranian’s suicide)
  • Zekria Ghulam Mohammed, (27), 18/05/04, an Afghan asylum seeker who was found hanged at his flat in the Dennistoun area of Glasgow. Zekria had been living in Scotland for four years and prior to his death his asylum claim had been refused and benefits stopped. He was also facing eviction from accommodation provided by NASS. Zekria, who trained as a dentist in Afghanistan, ‘was ashamed and broken. He felt there was no hope left’, according to his friends.
  • Unnamed man, 2004, an Iraqi asylum seeker who set himself alight in London. He had a history of mental health problems and was scared he would be returned to Iraq.
  • Liang He, (23), 10/11/03, who was found hanged at Bedford prison.
  • Mohammed bin Duhri, (20), 20/10/03, a Palestinian asylum seeker who was found hanged at Belmarsh maximum-security prison. He had been held at Dover Immigration Removal Centre but, after he allegedly assaulted a guard, he was moved to Belmarsh. Three prison officers were suspended for filing reports saying, after the death, that he was still alive.
  • Tema Kombe, (32), 4/9/03, a Ugandan asylum seeker who was found hanged in a toilet in the psychiatric ward at Heatherwood hospital, Ascot, after being detained under the Mental Health Act. The inquest returned a verdict of misadventure after hearing that he had made three previous attempts on his life.
  • Israfil Shiri, (30), 3/9/03, a destitute Iranian asylum seeker who died six days after pouring petrol over his body and setting himself alight in the offices of Refugee Action in Manchester. His asylum application had been rejected and he was homeless and penniless. Israfil, who was gay, feared being executed in Iran if he was deported. He also suffered from a painful bowel complaint but, after his asylum claim was refused, he was unable to get medical treatment and was in constant pain. An open verdict was recorded by the inquest. (IRR News story: Open verdict on death of asylum seeker who slept in a wheelie bin)
  • Vasiliy Todchuk, (24), 9/03, a Russian national who had deserted from the Russian army in Chechnya, was found hanged on a building site in Govan, Glasgow. He had been detained in Polmont YOI on criminal charges in early 2003 and attempted suicide on the day before his release. Several weeks before his death he had been advised that he would be deported.
  • Liu Jin Wu, (35), 5/5/03, a Chinese asylum seeker who took his own life while on remand at HMP Barlinnie in Scotland. It emerged during a fatal accident inquiry (FAI) that he was a Mandarin speaker who only had access to an interpreter three times during his ten weeks in the prison. He was on remand for two counts of attempted murder and during police interviews had told them that he was hearing voices; a provisional diagnosis of paranoid psychosis was made. He had been told he faced deportation regardless of what happened during the criminal proceedings as his asylum claim had been refused. The Inquiry was also told staff failed to check on him hourly as was required when he was found to be suicidal. But the FAI concluded that his suicide was due to mental health problems rather than any failure by the prison authorities.
  • Mikhail Bognarchuk, (42), 31/1/03, a Ukrainian asylum seeker who was found hanged at Haslar removal centre.
  • Sirous Khajeh, (29), 24/12/02, an Iranian asylum seeker who was found hanged at his home in Huddersfield. He was a torture victim who had been told that his asylum claim had been rejected and he faced eviction from his home and deportation. However, this information was incorrect and Sirous had in fact been granted asylum. A Yorkshire coroner recorded a verdict of suicide and was critical of the Home Office’s handling of his application.
  • Beverley Fowler, (32), 2/10/02, a Jamaican woman who was found hanged two days before the end of her sentence in Durham prison. She was a mother of three who was due to be deported back to Jamaica after serving a sentence for drug smuggling. In September 2003, an inquest recorded an open verdict. The inquest was told she feared for her safety in Kingston because the man who forced her into drug smuggling had murdered her partner.
  • Forsina Makoni, (79), 11/5/02, an elderly Zimbabwean woman who died after setting herself alight in Gillingham after her claim for political asylum was refused. She had been a vocal opponent of Robert Mugabe’s regime and became depressed in the weeks before her death after her claim was refused.
  • Shiraz Pir, (25), 7/5/02, a Pakistani asylum seeker who died five days after being found hanging in his Bristol home after his asylum claim was rejected. Facing deportation, he could not understand why friends had been given refugee status and he had been denied. He left a note asking that his body be returned to his parents. An inquest recorded a verdict of suicide whilst the balance of his mind was temporarily disturbed. The coroner criticized the Home Office for the delay with his asylum application.
  • Mohsen Amri, (27), 12/3/02, an Iranian asylum seeker who committed suicide at his home in Handsworth, Birmingham, after having a work permit refused and asylum application rejected. He had been in the UK for two years and made repeated requests for work permits (he did not want to work illegally). His asylum application had been refused on a technicality.
  • Nariman Tahamasbi, (27), 25/2/02, an Iranian asylum seeker who was found hanged in Lewes prison. He had been refused asylum in the UK and fearful of being deported back to Iran, he attempted to flee to Canada using the same forged travel documents that had brought him to the UK. He was arrested at Gatwick airport, charged over false documents and sentenced to six months imprisonment. Less than a week after arriving in the prison he hanged himself from the bars of his cell with a bedsheet and died in hospital five days later without regaining consciousness. A jury returned a verdict of death by misadventure following a three-day inquest into the death in may 2005. (IRR News story: Asylum death deemed misadventure)
  • Souleyman Diallo, (28), 1/1/02, a Guinean asylum seeker who committed suicide by jumping 100 feet off Redheugh Bridge, Tyneside, a few weeks after being told he was to be deported to Guinea. Souleyman, who spoke little English, was dispersed to Gateshead soon after he arrived in July 2000 and was not provided with any translation services. He felt that the interpreter at his appeal hearing had misinterpreted him. His solicitor commented that his ‘inability to access competent legal advice, difficulties in communicating his case and tight deadlines for submission statements have contributed to his case being properly heard’. She made a complaint to the Immigration Commissioners about his death. The coroner recorded an open verdict.
  • Nasser Ahmed, (35), 21/8/01, an Eritrean asylum seeker who was found hanged at his flat in Nelson, Lancashire shortly after his asylum claim was rejected.
  • Shokrolah ‘Ramin’ Khaleghi, (27), 18/1/01, an Iranian asylum seeker, dispersed to Leicester, who was found dead in the International Hotel, a hostel for asylum seekers, after his asylum claim was rejected. He had been a political prisoner in Iran, jailed for six years and tortured for refusing to serve in the Iranian army and affronting fundamentalist beliefs by shaving his facial hair. He took an overdose one week after learning that his asylum claim had been rejected.
  • Saeed Alaei, (26), 21/12/00, an Iranian asylum seeker, dispersed to Nelson, Lancashire, who was found hanged after his asylum claim was rejected.
  • Glynnis Cowley, (40), 4/00, a South African mother of three who committed suicide in Liverpool after her asylum claim was refused. She had been arrested Heathrow in June 1999 after being found in possession of cannabis and sentenced eight months. She alleged that she had been kidnapped and forced to act as drugs courier. While in Holloway prison her asylum claim was refused and after her release she launched an appeal but took her life before it was heard.
  • Robertas Grabys, 24/01/00, a Lithuanian asylum seeker who was found hanged in Harmondsworth detention centre 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.

Related links

National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns

INQUEST

Independent story: Asylum seeker kills himself so child can stay in Britain (subscription site)

Independent story: Inquiry urged over increase in detention centre deaths (subscription site)

Manchester Evening News story: Man drowns in canal horror

IRR News story Vigil for Manuel Bravo at Yarl’s Wood

IRR News story: Should more be done to prevent suicides in immigration detention centres?

Read the press release: Death trap: the human cost of the war on asylum here

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

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