Blunkett under fire after second asylum-seeker commits suicide

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Indy Politics

The suicide of a second failed asylum-seeker in less than a week has prompted renewed criticism of the Government's policy of locking them up. The victim, 23, from Vietnam, was found dead in his cell in Dungavel detention centre, Lanarkshire, only days after his arrival.

He was one of 30 asylum- seekers who were relocated to Dungavel from Harmondsworth detention centre earlier this week after riots there. The outbreak of violence was prompted by the suicide of another man, 31, who was found hanging in his cell on Monday night and resulted in the decision to disperse all 440 inmates.

The death at Dungavel, home to 150 failed asylum-seekers and immigration detainees, came just three weeks after David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, visited the centre and described conditions as "entirely satisfactory".

The Home Office described the Dungavel death as "tragic" and confirmed that a thorough investigation was under way. "There will be a police investigation as well as an independent investigation by the Prison and Probation Ombudsman's office," which will be forwarded to prosecutors, it said.

Human rights lawyers and civil liberty campaigners were unanimous in their condemnation of detention centres and warned that more deaths would follow. Aamer Anwar, a Glasgow lawyer who represents several clients detained in Dungavel, claimed that asylum-seekers were being deprived of essential psychiatric support.

"Morale in these detention centres is rock bottom," he said. "I have spoken to a number of people at Dungavel who are suicidal. We are talking about people whose families have been raped, tortured, persecuted and they are offered little more than a paracetamol.

"These people are receiving no mental health support and many of them are in desperate need of psychiatric attention.

"They need open doors, support, compassion and a sense of a place in the community in order to rebuild their lives. But the situation they are placed in is totally dehumanising." Robina Qureshi, the director of Positive Action in Housing, an anti-racism charity, said: "This suicide is part and parcel of the Dungavel culture, a culture of fear, suicide attempts, self harm and psychological depression, alongside the prison regime."

Britain heads the European league for locking up asylum-seekers. Nine detention centres across the country can hold 2,027 people at a time.