On 20 September, a brief inquest was held into the death of Abiy Fessfha Abebe, a 35-year-old Ethiopian asylum seeker who was found hanged at Greenbank accommodation centre in Liverpool the day after he was told that his asylum claim had been refused. The coroner found ‘it more likely than not he died by his own hand’.
Fast tracking asylum
Abiy’s claim, from start to finish, was dealt with in just fourteen days. He made his initial asylum claim at Lunar House on 19 June 2006, an introductory interview/chat was followed by his substantive asylum interview on 27 June. The decision to refuse Abiy asylum, was made on 3 July and delivered the following day on the 4 July. The next day Abiy was found dead in his room.
Abiy’s claim for asylum was dealt with under the New Asylum Model (NAM) the new fast-track system to deal with asylum claims. Although asylum claims have been dealt with under the fast track system in detention, fast tracking for non-detained people started in June 2005. Under NAM, an asylum seeker is appointed ‘a single case owner’ responsible for her/him throughout the process. The Refugee Council has been critical of NAM because it does not allow enough time for people to seek legal advice and adequately prepare their claim. (Also see the link below for the Refugee Council briefing.)
The inquest was told that Abiy had apparently (at previous meetings with his case owner) discussed voluntary return through the Organization for Migration (IOM) and on the day his asylum claim was refused had in his possession completed paperwork for voluntary return with the organisation. After being told that his asylum claim had been refused, Abiy was described as ‘clearly disappointed,’ but did not want to appeal against the decision. Abiy’s case owner spoke to the IOM to try and arrange his return but was unable to organise anything so an appointment was made for Abiy for the following day – the day he was found dead.
The inquest appeared to echo the fast-tracking of the asylum system. The coroner announced at the opening of the inquest the names of the witnesses he intended to call and those whose statements he intended to read. However, after hearing from only two for the witnesses, he decided not to call the third witness and delivered his verdict on Abiy’s death with great speed. One witness, the case owner, was only allowed to answer a few questions from Abiy’s family as the coroner refused to allow other questions to be responded to. Abiy’s family were legally unrepresented at the inquest; the Home Office was represented by two treasury lawyers.
Abiy’s family have told us that they were hoping that the inquest would throw some light on the circumstances surrounding Abiy’s death and that they would be able to ask questions of those involved in deciding Abiy’s asylum claim. They were particularly concerned by the contents of Abiy’s suicide note (addressed to his ‘case owner’) that was left in his room. ‘I can’t go back. I rather die’, were Abiy’s last words in the note. The note, suggested that personal particulars contained in his asylum claim had been revealed to his employers in Ethiopia and that this had terrified him, had raised many questions. And it was these questions that Abiy’s family wanted answered at the inquest. However this the coroner refused on the ground that the matters being raised were beyond the remit of the inquest.
Read IRR News story: First death under new community fast-track system
Download a copy of the Refugee Council Briefing on NAM (Word file, 126kb)
Driven to desperate measures (pdf file, 401kb)