Asylum-seeker's 'despair' drove him to suicide

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The Independent Online

A Kurdish teenager killed himself after spending more than four months in an immigration detention centre, an inquest has heard.

Ramazan Kumluca, 18, is the youngest asylum-seeker to have committed suicide while facing deportation from Britain.

Campaign groups yesterday called for the closure of all detention centres, comparing them to Victorian workhouses.

Mr Kumluca is one of more than 30 asylum-seekers who have killed themselves in the past five years after being told their applications had failed.

He had travelled from his home in Turkey to Italy and then on to Britain where he claimed asylum last year, saying that his life was in danger over a £20,000 debt owed by his father. He also claimed that if he was sent back to Italy (under rules that asylum must be claimed in the first safe country reached) he was at risk of exploitation.

Mr Kumluca was refused asylum and denied bail because there were fears he would not report back for deportation. He was sent to Campsfield House in Oxfordshire, an immigration removal centre that holds around 100 men at any time.

The average stay for detainees at the centre is 14 days, but because the teenager was fighting his deportation order he was held for four and a half months.

An inquest at Oxford Old Assizes heard he had been plunged into despair during his incarceration and had complained of insomnia, headaches and anxiety. A fellow inmate, Abdulwase Kamali, told the court Mr Kumluca had appeared "sad" the day before he killed himself. He said: "Ramazan said he had been told by immigration he would be sent back to Italy, and he said if he was sent back to Italy he would be used in sex films. He said he would slash himself or hang himself."

On 27 June last year, Mr Kamali and other Muslim detainees alerted warders after calling Mr Kumluca for morning prayers and finding his door would not open. He was found hanging from the door closing mechanism.

After investigating his death, a Prison and Probation ombudsman cleared staff of any wrongdoing.

The jury returned a verdict of suicide.

Outside the court, Bob Hughes, of the pressure group Campaign to Close Campsfield, said: "Here we have an institution full of people being driven deliberately to despair by government policy."

"He added: "We believe these people should be allowed to get on with their own lives. Centres like Campsfield are a huge national scandal and shame.

"When the history books are written the current hysteria against asylum-seekers will be an episode comparable with the Victorian workhouse and slavery."

Campsfield House has been a removal centre since 1993 and is privately run by the company Global Solutions Limited. In 2002, the then Home Secretary David Blunkett pledged that the centre would be closed, but a year later it was decided to keep it open and expand the number of places.

Since 2000, at least 25 asylum-seekers have killed themselves while living in the community after being told they would be deported. Mr Kumluca was the seventh to have committed suicide in a detention centre. More than 2,600 adults and children are being held in detention centres prior to deportation. In January this year another asylum-seeker Bereket Yohannes, from Eritrea, was found hanging at Harmondsworth Removal Centre. An inquest will be held into his death.