Detainees punished for protesting after suicide

Detainees punished for protesting after suicide

Written by: Harmit Athwal

Asylum detainees at Harmondsworth immigration removal centre have been punished for protesting against conditions there after the suicide of an Eritrean asylum seeker.

On 19 January 2006, Bereket Yohannes, a 26-year-old Eritrean asylum seeker was found hanged in a shower block at Harmondsworth – the first death of a detained asylum seeker this year.

According to the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (NCADC), which received reports that Bereket Yohannes had arrived in the UK from Italy in October 2005, he was detained on arrival in the UK, taken to Dover immigration removal centre and then to Harmondsworth in December. NCADC has been told that Bereket had ‘removal directions’ for February but that the deportation had been deferred pending a judicial review. Detainees at Harmondsworth told NCADC that the deportation was neither to Eritrea nor back to Italy, but to Sudan. 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

The day after Bereket was found hanged at Harmondsworth, sixty-one detainees at the centre held a meeting, formed a committee and issued a statement of their complaints through the NCADC. The organisation, now says that all the detainees involved in the peaceful protest were subsequently moved to isolation cells by officers. And many have now been transferred to Colnbrook short term holding centre and two to Dungavel removal Centre.

Statement from detainees at Harmondsworth

Below we publish edited excerpts from the detainees’ statement:

  • It is unjustifiable to detain us in dehumanising and depressing conditions for a better part of our lives.
  • Freedom of speech is totally denied us, as we are not given the opportunity to contribute our own views and opinions in such a way as to make positive impact on our conditions of living. In fact, our opinions are baseless and irrelevant as far as the management and staff of UKDS is concerned.
  • Freedom of movement is totally ruled out … UKDS officers make us feel that we are an inconvenience and our and our timely movement is only at the disposal of the authority.
  • The most alarming problem facing us is the susceptibility to a hazardous and unhealthy environment as every single window in all the rooms in the various wings are sealed.
  • We should be allowed to worship without any constraints.
  • We should have access to immigration appeals processes.
  • Most detainees are almost starving themselves to death as we are all tired of eating the same food every single day without any alternative.
  • The way and manner officers disrespect detainees is quite disgusting and very humiliating.
  • Poor sanitary conditions.
  • Owing to the loss of our fellow detainee, we are currently living under perpetual fear and nobody knows who is the next victim; we therefore demand that all detainees currently being held should be released as a matter of urgency. (Read the full statement issued by 61 Harmondsworth detainees).

The Home Office confirmed that a death had taken place at Harmondsworth but would not confirm for IRR News any other details until the man’s family had been located.

Bereket’s death is the third at the centre and the eighth in an immigration removal centre in six years. Harmondsworth was also the scene of a serious disturbance in July 2004 that was triggered by the suicide of Sergey Barnuyck. And one of the sixty men transferred to Dungavel removal centre in Scotland, in the days after the disturbance, 23-year-old Vietnamese Tran Quang Tung, was found hanged days later on 23 July 2004.

We list below the eight asylum seekers, in immigration removal centres, that have taken their lives in the last six years, (though many more have taken their own lives in prisons and while living in the community).

  • Bereket Yohannes, (26), 19/1/06, an Eritrean asylum seeker who was found hanged in a shower block at Harmondsworth removal centre.
  • Manuel Bravo, (35), 15/9/05, an Angolan asylum seeker detained in Yarl’s Wood with his 13-year-old son, who was found hanged in a stairwell on the morning of his 35th birthday, the day he was due to be deported.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Mikhail Bognarchuk, (42), 31/1/03, a Ukrainian asylum seeker who was found hanged at Haslar removal centre.
  • 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

IRR News Story: Two asylum seekers took their own lives within 24 hours

IRR News Story: The human cost of immigration detention

IRR Press Release: Failing the vulnerable: the death of ten asylum seekers and other foreign nationals in UK detention


You can attend a vigil in memory of Bereket Yohannes, to be held on Sunday 29 January outside Harmondsworth.

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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