Driven to desperate measures

Driven to desperate measures


Written by: Harmit Athwal

No section of our society is more vulnerable than asylum seekers and undocumented migrants. Forced by circumstances beyond their control to seek a life outside their home countries, prevented by our laws from entering legally and from working, denied a fair hearing by the asylum system, excluded from health and safety protection at work, kept from social care and welfare, unhoused and destitute, vilified by the media and therefore dehumanised in the popular imagination, their hopes of another life are finally extinguished.

The IRR has catalogued a roll call of death of the 221 asylum seekers and migrants who have died either in the UK or attempting to reach the UK in the past seventeen years.*

97 died taking dangerous and highly risky methods to enter the country. With legal barriers in place to prevent them securing visas or work permits to enter legally and sanctions applying to above-board carriers, the desperate stow away on planes and lorries or attempt to cross the channel in makeshift boats or cling to trains. The number recorded here is probably only a fraction of those who have died in this way. Our figures rely on news reports and by virtue of the subject matter these deaths are not news.

70 died as an indirect consequence of the iniquities of the immigration/asylum system – either by taking their own lives when claims were not allowed, or by meeting accidental deaths evading deportation, or during the deportation itself, or by being prevented medical care, through becoming destitute in the UK.

Of these:

– 57 died at their own hand, preferring this to being returned to the country they fled, when asylum claims were turned down. And compounding the process is the fact that some of those in detention and known to be traumatised and particularly vulnerable appear not to have been provided with the medical (especially psychiatric) support they needed.

– 4 died accidentally as, in terror at what they presumed to be the arrival of deportation officials, they took evasive action.

– 1 person died during the deportation process itself, when she was asphyxiated as officers used 13 feet of tape to subdue and quieten her.

– 2 people died after being deported back to a country where they feared for their safety. The actual number is certainly far higher.

– 5 people died because of being denied healthcare for preventable medical problems.

– 1 person died destitute and unable to access services.

4 died in prison, police or psychiatric custody, where racist stereotypes appeared to induce the use of reckless control and restraint methods or where there appeared to be medical neglect.

32 died in the course of carrying out work, which, by virtue of its being part of the ‘black economy’ carried particular dangers and few protective rights. (The numbers listed here are probably a gross underestimate, as work-related deaths of people who are ‘illegal’ will often go unreported in the media.)

18 died on the streets of our cities at the hands of racists or as a consequence of altercations with a racial dimension. Often the victims had been moved, via the government’s dispersal system, to areas where they were particularly isolated and vulnerable to attack.


Since 1989, there have been 71 suicides of asylum seekers and foreign nationals. 36 suicides of asylum seekers took place in the community and 22 suicides of asylum seekers and foreign nationals in prisons, removal centres and psychiatric custody.

Suicides are now of particular concern. In the last five years alone there have been 41 suicides –

15 in detention and 26 in the community. In 2004, 12 people died at their own hand. In the last year there have been 5 suicides in the community.

Removal centres

6 asylum seekers have died since 1989 at one removal centre alone – Harmondsworth.

  • 5/10/89 Siho Iyugiven, (27), died after burning to death after barricading himself in his cell
  • 15/6/90 Kimpua Nsimba, (24), was found hanged
  • 24/1/00 Robertas Grabys, (49), was found hanged
  • 7/5/03 Olga Blaskevica, (29), was murdered by her mentally ill partner while awaiting deportation
  • 19/7/04 Sergey Barnuyck, (31), was found hanged
  • 19/1/06 Bereket Yohannes, (26), was found hanged

Also, Tran Quang Tung, (35), who was found hanged in Dungavel removal centre on 23/7/04 had been transferred days earlier from Harmondsworth following the disturbance after the death of Sergey Barnuyck.


In the last five years there have been a number of deaths (suicides and racially motivated murders) in main dispersal areas such as Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Bristol.


In the last five years, 8 asylum seekers/migrant workers have died as a result of a racially motivated attack:

  • 29/8/02 Peiman Bahmani, (28), Hendon, Sunderland
  • 10/02 Mustafa Ally Abdillahi, (31), Luton
  • 9/2/03 Mohammed Isa Hasan Ali, (22), Southampton
  • 6/5/04 Bapishankar Kathirgamamathan, (24), Ashford, Kent
  • 6/9/04 Kalan Kawa Karim, (29), Swansea
  • 9/05 Rushi Kamdar, (23), Coventry
  • 27/4/06 Khizar Hayat, (40), Kennington, south London
  • 3/5/06 Hamidi Hamidullah, (31), Kennington, south London
Nationality and gender

Of the 221 people on this list, 24 were female, 187 male and the gender of 10 was unknown.

The countries of origin of those who died are, on the whole, locations where political /economic upheaval has been experienced.

  • China (84)
  • Iran (10)
  • Afghanistan (6)
  • Iraq (6)
  • Kurdish origin (country unknown) (6)
  • Zimbabwe (6)
  • Africa (country unknown) (5)
  • Romania (5)
  • Somalia (5)
  • Asia (country unknown) (4)
  • Democratic Republic of Congo (4)
  • Eritrea (4)

In the last five years, 21 people have died as result of using dangerous and risky methods to enter the country. 4 have died after injuring themselves while jumping onto trains travelling through the Channel Tunnel in France and another 4 have died in the channel itself. 4 have died while stowing away in planes and being killed by the extreme temperatures. And another 7 people have died after being run over or injured after stowing away in vehicles.

To download a copy of Driven to desperate measures, as a pdf file (401kb), click on the link below.

Related links

Driven to desperate measures (pdf file, 401kb)

* These deaths do not include those 'settled' black people, those with leave to remain who have met their death in the custody of the police, prison and psychiatric hospitals and in racial violence attacks. Nor does it include deaths in custody of asylum seekers arrested on suspicion of committing criminal offences.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

2 thoughts on “Driven to desperate measures

  1. this is so touching and rather moving to see the injustice of what the harshness of immigration man made laws can cauze. this piece is rather touching and provocative.welldone in your researches

  2. Disturbing statistics, which we are expected to accept responsibility for, when all of these deaths could have been avoided, at least on UK soil, if the ‘refugees’ had stayed in the first safe country they arrived in.

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