Asylum seekers under Home Office accommodation and care are dying at alarming rates while the British government, rather than providing a safer environment and preventing such tragedies, downplays their death toll, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor warned in a statement today.
Since April 2016, 95 people have died in asylum accommodation in UK, almost double the number recently provided by the government, raising doubts the Home Office has deliberately downplayed the toll of these deaths.
In the past two years, alongside the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Home Office decision to push thousands of asylum seekers in hotels and military barracks, there has been a steep rise in the number of deaths in asylum accommodation. Deaths leapt from four in 2019 to 36 in 2020 - a ninefold increase - with a further 33 people in the first eight months of 2021, meaning that, since the start of 2020 up to August 2021, 69 people have died under the Home Office care.
Already at the beginning of 2020, it was found by the Home Office’s own inspectors that 83% of Home Office properties to accommodate asylum seekers had defects and 40% of the defects were so serious that they made the properties uninhabitable. Far from offering a “safe environment” during Covid-19, these forms of temporary accommodation are unsafe, overcrowded and often detention-like, such as Napier Barracks in Kent and Penally Barracks in Pembrokeshire, recently ruled “inadequate and unsafe” by the UK High Court itself.
Nonetheless, the number of asylum seekers living in hotel-type accommodation has continued to increase, from 1,200 people in March 2020 to approximately 8,700 at the end of February 2021, spread in over 90 hotels across the UK.
Such mistreatment of asylum seekers’ right to an adequate standard of living was already in the public eye in UK but recently it has sparked new concerns.
Following distinct requests made by the Scottish Refugee Council (SRC) and Liberty Investigates on the death toll of people within its asylum accommodation, the Home Office provided two different answers.
69 deaths according to freedom of information (FoI) requests by Liberty Investigates and 51 following FoI requests made by the SRC only three months before. For instance, a 77-year-old Salvadorian who died in a hospital on May 2020, 10 days after falling ill at his asylum hotel, did not appear in the data provided to the SRC but did in the Liberty Investigates’ response months later.
A government’s spokesperson said the discrepancy came from its different interpretation of the two requests, suggesting the one of the SRC aimed to know only deaths occurring physically inside asylum accommodation and not in external settings, as hospitals. “The FoIs are from different organisations, asking for different information, hence the different responses” they stated.
Yet both the two FoI requests asked for deaths of people housed under four sections of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.
“The possibility that the discrepancy results from a deliberate decision of the Home Office to lower the number of deaths is much too appalling to pass unnoticed as a mere human misinterpretation. We cannot be aware of the real scale of this tragedy, nor be able to prevent further deaths, without transparent data” said Michela Pugliese, Migration Researcher at Euro-Med Monitor, “The way asylum seekers are housed and treated, both in life and in death, is emblematic of who the UK currently is as a country. The decision of trapping asylum seekers in remote hotels and military barracks even for years, cut off from all social facilities, with little consideration of their physical and mental needs and with no consultation with them, reflects and reproduces the ongoing stigmatisation they currently face due also to the British government”.
Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor calls on the UK to start an independent and transparent inquiry to investigate and prevent asylum seekers’ deaths occurring at such alarming rate under the care of the Home Office; to publish annual, detailed and comprehensive data on deaths happening within its asylum accommodation; to respect and ensure asylum seekers’ right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate housing, and the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, as recognized in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which the UK is a State Party; and finally to fulfil asylum seekers and refugees’ entitlement to participate in housing-related decision-making affecting their own lives at both the national and community levels.