WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
April 20 2024
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
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Home Office fails to inform the families of asylum seekers who die in their care

Home Office fails to inform the families of asylum seekers who die in their care

Life in the justice gap: illustration from Proof magazine, issue 3. Simon Pemberton

The Home Office has admitted it does not routinely inform the families of asylum seekers who have died in their care. It is also restricting the release of information about these deaths publicly due to concerns that it might ‘endanger mental health.’

As of August 2023, 176 asylum seekers are thought to have died under the Home Office’s care at Home Office accommodation since 2020. The Civil Fleet, an organization that regularly applies for information requests from the Home Office, has reported that the Home Office has not provided information about the race and gender of five people who have died in the first six months of 2023 in Home Office accommodation. This is despite providing such information in previous years such as 2021, 2022 and early 2023.

The reason given by the Home Office for failure to disclose this information is through reliance on Section 38(1)(a) and (b) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, on the basis that its release ‘would, or would likely, endanger the physical or mental health of any individual’, or ‘endanger the safety of any individual’. The risk, according to the Home Office, is that this information may be used to identify and endanger the safety of asylum seekers and their families.

The Civil Fleet has appealed the decision to the Information Commissioner’s office who has requested that the Home Office disclose this information by 4th April, or they may otherwise be found in contempt of court. The Home Office may appeal this decision; however, they have admitted there is no previous causal link between disclosure of this information and the identifying of the individual asylum seekers.

Deborah Coles, the director of INQUEST, a charity investigating contentious deaths, has said:  ‘The levels of obfuscation and denial from the Home Office are unparalleled across any other public body. They show utter contempt for people who die in their care and their families. There is clear disregard for their legal and moral responsibility.’

A Home Office spokesperson has responded to assure that they will continue to ‘ensure the needs and vulnerabilities of those residing in asylum accommodation are identified and considered, including those related to mental health and trauma.’ They have also expressed disappointment in the ICO ruling and have said they will be considering their next steps.

The Home Office also faced fresh criticism yesterday following comments made by David Neal, the sacked independent borders inspector, who told the BBC that the Home Office was ‘dysfunctional’ and ‘in need of reform’. He revealed that, within 18 months, there had been four different officials in charge of emergency accommodation for asylum seekers, which he described as ‘absolute madness in terms of accountability.’

Neal has also described the conditions in asylum accommodation for children being brought ashore from small boats as worse than the facilities ‘for detained Taliban terrorists in Afghanistan.’ Whilst he said these concerns appeared to be taken seriously, they were not given sufficient attention as the (then) Home Secretary Priti Patel failed to meet him, and her successor, Suella Braverman, only met with him twice. Neal also claimed on the BBC’s Today Podcast that he did not gain access to higher-ups to report on issues that needed reform.

15 of Neal’s reports were originally held back from publication for 18 months, although 13 of which are now online. Mr. Neal was sacked for the release of sensitive information over the lack of sufficient radios at the Heathrow e-passport gates which reportedly lost him the trust of the Home Secretary.