Oct 18


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The racism that kills
The recent death of an asylum seeker adds to the grim statistic of those who have died as a result of the UK’s brutal laws

Harmit Athwal
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 17 October 2010 21.30 BST

The horrific death of an asylum seeker, Jimmy Mubenga, forced to return to Angola on a flight from London’s Heathrow, comes as no surprise to anyone who knows about the asylum system in Britain. Thirty-eight people have died in asylum- and immigration-related deaths in the last 18 months across Europe. The death of 29-year-old Nigerian Joseph Ndukaku Chiakwa, for example, being deported from Zurich to Lagos in March 2010, after having been on hunger strike and bound up like a parcel in a so-called level 4 procedure, has many similarities with what happened to Mubenga. Research from the Institute of Race Relations reveals that at least 14 people have died since 1991 in a similar way during attempted forced deportation from Europe.

Mubenga appears to have died in a physically brutal deportation at the hands of private security guards from G4S – the first such death in the UK since that of Joy Gardner in 1993 at the hands of “specialist” police officers. However, countless others, I would argue, have lost their lives as a result of Britain’s brutal asylum laws, which make it so hard to get here, almost impossible to qualify for asylum, and now puts a premium on speeding up deportations. Many people die using clandestine, dangerous methods of entry, many die by their own hand as asylum claims are refused, many die because they are refused medical care or left destitute on our streets – where many again die because they are prey to racist attack.

Today the IRR publishes Driven to Desperate Measures: 2006-2010, a report that documents 77 deaths of asylum seekers and migrants in the UK, which we attribute to racism. These deaths rarely make the news, a strange parallel world of refused asylum seekers who are petrified of being sent back to face the dangers from which they fled.

Deaths such as that of Naser al-Shdaida, a 36-year-old Syrian asylum seeker who jumped in front of a train in London after being told his asylum claim had failed. Abiy Fessfha Abebe, a 35-year-old Ethiopian asylum seeker who was found hanged in a Liverpool accommodation centre in July 2006 the day after being told his asylum claim had been refused. (His suicide note addressed to his caseworker finished with the line: “I can’t go back. I rather die.”) Destitute asylum seeker Osman Rasul Mohammed, who in July jumped to his death from a Nottingham tower block as two police officers tried to talk him down. He was one of the thousands of clients of Refugee and Migrant Justice left without access to legal advice and representation after it went into administration. Frank Odame, a Ghanaian, who was found with head injuries below a block of flats in Woodford Green as police and immigration officials knocked on the door.

What will happen now in Mubenga’s case? There will be inquiries; the police, the UK Border Agency, G4S, a coroner, will all conduct investigations of sorts. But even if there is sufficient evidence to justify the file being passed to the Crown Prosecution Service, a successful prosecution seems unlikely. The first and last time state officials were successfully prosecuted for involvement in the death of a black person was in November 1971, when two police officers received short criminal sentences for involvement in the death of a homeless Nigerian migrant, David Oluwale.


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