French social services have been accused of failing a seventeen-year-old Afghan asylum seeker who apparently took his own life.
On 10 June Le Monde reported that Aminullah, a young asylum seeker from Afghanistan who had dreamed of becoming a plumber, committed suicide in Paris, three months before his eighteenth birthday. The full facts of the case can be found on the website of the Réseau Education Sans Frontièes (Education Without Borders Network). It is the story of a boy who fled Afghanistan when he was sixteen, because he did not want to join the Taliban. Aminullah arrived in France in November 2009 but apparently the French social services (ASE , Social Assistance for Children) disputed his age and he was forced to undergo a bone examination (a discredited way of assessing age). After a judge finally accepted that he was indeed a child, Aminullah was placed with foster parents, a placement which did not work out. He ran away, apparently the foster parents did not take to him because he could not speak French. Homeless on the streets of Paris, he was eventually picked up and put in a bed and breakfast. Things seemed better for a while, but unable to find work and fearing that on his eighteenth birthday, the ASE would stop all assistance, on 30 April 2011 Aminullah hanged himself in Vilette park.
Deep shock has been registered by the small Afghan community in Paris and criticism has also been made of the ASE. Aminullah believed he would be sent back to Afghanistan after his birthday on 19 July and apparently had phoned his parents and brother frantic with despair, saying social services had contacted the police and he would be expelled (his parents had urged him to try and stay in Paris, saying that he would be killed by smugglers as the family was too poor to repay the debts incurred getting him to France in the first place.) The head of the Paris bureau of ASE, Olivier Le Camus, rejected criticism of the social services, saying they had done all they could to offer support, and Romain Levy, child protection assistant to the mayor of Paris, said ‘We did all we could for this boy. He was put in a foster family, educated, sent on holidays. But nothing worked, he didn’t adapt himself, he didn’t mix with other young people.’
If Aminullah didn’t mix with other young people, why was it that, on 20 May, fifteen of Aminullah’s friends gathered in grief around his body before it was repatriated to Afghanistan?
Growing number of teenage deaths
In its study of ‘Accelerated Removals’ in 2009-2010 the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) documented the suicide of two unaccompanied children, one an Iraqi boy aged sixteen, in Sweden. We pointed out that as teenagers are often the most resilient in asylum and migrant communities, the fact that two had committed suicide in reception facilities where they were parentless, alone and psychologically traumatised, and countless others had self-harmed in detention centres, was a cause for alarm. This was the first time that the IRR had documented suicides of young asylum seekers since it first began to study the human cost of forced removals in 2005. The tragic death of Aminullah in Paris suggests that it will not be the last.
European Race Audit Briefing Paper No.4: ‘Accelerated Removals’