Did undue pressure on an asylum seeker lead to his suicide?


Did undue pressure on an asylum seeker lead to his suicide?

Written by: Harmit Athwal


The suicide of an Ethiopian asylum seeker has led refugee support workers to question methods being used by government officials to gain information.

Seife Yimene, a 24-year-old Ethiopian man who came to the UK in July 2004, was living in emergency accommodation in Newcastle while his asylum claim was being processed. He became very depressed as a result of a number of visits from officials, whom his friends and refugee support workers believe, were connected to the Immigration Service, although they cannot be sure they were not from other government departments. It appears that in his home country Seife worked in the civil service and for that reason was assumed to have particular information on other Ethiopians. Seife’s asylum support worker told IRR News that ‘he felt caught between two stools and felt under a lot of pressure’. His problems, according to those who worked with him, developed after he started receiving visits from government officials. Seife was scared his asylum claim would be refused if he did not give the information that they were after and he was petrified that other Ethiopians would discover that he was being questioned. He became very depressed and his friends became extremely concerned about his behaviour.

On 26 September 2004, friends were so concerned about his health that they took him to the Accident and Emergency department of Newcastle General Infirmary. When Seife was eventually seen by a Doctor after seven hours he was reportedly in a ‘catatonic’ state but was told by the Doctor, ‘If you won’t speak then we can’t help’. Seife left the hospital and hanged himself from a tree outside.

Seife’s body was recently returned to Ethiopia after the Ethiopian Community raised the funds for the return of the body and a generous individual paid for funeral costs.

Related links

IRR Press Release – Death trap: the human cost of the war on asylum

National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns

Barbed Wire Britain

Asylum Support


The IRR is currently researching the suicides of asylum seekers and undocumented workers in the UK, if you have any information please email: mit@irr.org.uk


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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