A recent meeting on deaths in immigration detention centres called for the state to be held accountable for the deaths of vulnerable asylum seekers.
The meeting, which was organised by Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) after the death of Manuel Bravo in Yarl’s Wood was addressed by campaigners on deaths in custody and those working with asylum seekers.
The Rev Alistair Kaye, a friend of Manuel Bravo’s, told the meeting that Manuel was obviously traumatised by his experiences in Angola, and his decision to represent himself at his asylum tribunal had been a ‘brave one’. He spoke about the past year when he saw Manuel slip into a deeper and deeper depression. After Manuel’s tragic death, he was left, he said, with ‘a great feeling that Manuel was not treated properly by the system’. And he had many questions: why did Manuel not receive a response to his asylum claim, why should children be loaded into police vans, why were Manuel and Antonio arrested in such a heavy-handed way, why was the care the father and son received at Yarl’s Wood so poor.
Debbie Coles from INQUEST, an organisation that provides support and advice to the families and friends of those who die in custody, explained that deaths in prison are routinely reported to ‘interested’ organisations such as INQUEST and the Howard League for Penal Reform. However, there is no such requirement to report deaths in immigration detention centres to such organisations. She demanded that the state be held accountable for the deaths of vulnerable asylum seekers.
Other speakers spoke about the pressures to return asylum seekers. First, there was criticism of the legal aid cuts which mean that asylum seekers now go unrepresented at asylum hearings. A Zimbabwean asylum seeker who has been on hunger strike, asked how the government expects him to live: ‘They force you into destitution and then, ultimately, to return.’ A female asylum seeker from Congo Brazzaville simply said: ‘How can we be safe in a country where there is a war?’ Dashty Jamal of the Federation of Iraqi Refugees talked about the Voluntary Returns Programme, which he called a programme of ‘forced removal’.