Inquiry urged over increase in detention centre deaths

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The high number of deaths among asylum-seekers held in British detention centres has prompted human rights and refugee groups to demand an urgent public inquiry to prevent any further loss of life.

Manuel Bravo, who hanged himself in front of his 13-year-old son at Yarl's Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire, was the sixth asylum-seeker in custody awaiting deportation to commit suicide in the past 12 months.

At least three other asylum-seekers living in the community have also committed suicide after losing their appeals this year. Mr Bravo's death follows that of Ramazan Camlica, 19, who took his own life seven months after arriving in Britain. Mr Camlica came to his country to escape the persecution he felt as a Kurd living in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, eastern Anatolia. He was found dead in June at Campsfield House detention centre, Oxfordshire, after his application for bail was rejected for a third time.

Deborah Coles of the pressure group Inquest said the time had come to establish what had gone wrong with the system. She said: "This death once again raises fundamental concerns about the treatment of asylum-seekers in the detention centre system. What's needed is a full and independent inquiry into all the deaths because unless action is taken lives will continue to be at risk."

Amnesty International said it was important that lessons were quickly learnt. Amnesty's UK refugee programme director, Jan Shaw, said: "Our recent research points to a quite unacceptably high level of suffering for thousands of people who are locked up in the UK under immigration powers. The human cost of this policy is frighteningly high. We found that people are languishing in detention with no end in sight - leading to hopelessness, mental illness, self-harm and even, tragically, to people attempting suicide."

A spokesperson for the Refugee Council said: "This is both very sad and hugely appalling. It demonstrates in such stark terms the enormous failures of a system that seems to concentrate more on increasing the number of removals than it does on ensuring that people who need safety here are able to get it. It is vital that procedures are urgently reviewed to ensure this cannot happen again."

Emma Ginn, a co-ordinator from the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns, also supported the call for an inquiry that would go beyond what the Home Office investigation had ordered. She asked: "Why is it that so-called bogus asylum-seekers continue to choose suicide rather than returning to their own countries? The Government knows that these people face real dangers yet they continue to order their return."

Harmit Athwal, of the Institute of Race Relations, warned the Government that the more ministers tried to speed up deportations the more likelihood of similar acts of self-harm.

In July this year Yarl's Wood, Britain's largest immigration detention centre, was condemned in a report by Anne Owers, the chief inspector of prisons. Ms Owers said her inquiry had found that children detained at the centre were "damaged" by their experience. In one case a five-year-old autistic girl was so badly neglected she had not eaten properly for four days.

Ms Coles said many of the immigration detention centres were run by private companies and "shrouded in secrecy". She added: "The circumstances of some of these deaths are simply never made public."