New Clause 13 - Reporting to Parliament in relation to the prevention of death

Part of Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 4 November 2021.

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Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 2:00, 4 November 2021

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Everyone in this Committee has expressed concern at the loss of life in the channel when people make dangerous journeys to seek asylum here. This new clause brings us to loss of life among people already in the immigration and asylum systems. It asks: what do we know about such deaths, what do we do in response to prevent other deaths from happening, and what do we do to ensure dignity in death? I am grateful to Amnesty International, Migrant Voice, Bail for Immigration Detainees, the Scottish Refugee Council and Liberty Investigates for all their work on this.

I particularly want to mention the Da’aro Youth Project, which was established in 2018 by members of the Eritrean community in London in response to the suicides of several unaccompanied teenage Eritreans who came to the UK to seek asylum, and supports the wellbeing of young people in the UK asylum system from countries in the horn of Africa. Its research found that at least 12 teenagers who arrived in the UK as unaccompanied children seeking asylum have died by suicide in the past five years, most of them Eritrean, including several in recent months. All had either been children in the care of local authorities or care leavers, while one was subject to an age dispute, one had been denied family reunion, and several had been waiting for significant periods for an asylum decision or had in fact been refused asylum.

More recently, Scottish Refugee Council freedom of information requests initially identified 51 deaths in asylum accommodation between April 2016 and June 2021. A slightly different set of FOIs from Liberty Investigates received a different number from the Home Office: 95 in the period to August 2021. Alarmingly, 69 of those deaths—about three quarters—were in the period from 2020, so there has been a significant increase. By August this year, nearly as many people had died in the asylum system as in the whole of last year.

The first issue is why it is only through the work of Da’aro Youth Project, the Scottish Refugee Council and Liberty Investigates that we know this. Surely the Home Office should be reporting regularly on the deaths of those in its system. Can lessons be learned from these deaths, what could be done to prevent further deaths, and do the deaths have implications for broader policy? For example, there has been a significant increase in deaths over the past couple of years, suggesting that moving to institutional accommodation is a dangerous policy, but are there other reasons? What about new policies, including those in this Bill? What impact might they have on deaths in the asylum and immigration system? We cannot do very much of that analysis because it does not seem that the Home Office gathers information never mind publishes it. Which other Government Department would get away with it if deaths of those in its care and caught up in its processes were not being thoroughly investigated and responded to? It should be absolutely no different here.

The second issue is: what happens in response to every individual death? I am not even sure whether there is in existence a proper Home Office policy on this. Is any effort made to find and contact family members, or even to return the body to the family? What is done to support friends and family here in the UK, particularly those who are in the asylum system or local authority care?

Since Windrush, we have been told repeatedly that the Home Office is undergoing a culture change to see “the face behind the case”. I suggest that a vital starting place could be taking much greater interest in those who have lost their life while within the Home Office’s own asylum and immigration systems and being transparent and accountable about what has happened. The new clause simply asks for what really should have been happening for years. It is a simple matter of human decency and proper accountability.