Letter: Anguish felt by asylum seekers

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The Independent Online
Sir: Following your article on Turan Pekoz's death after setting fire to himself at the Home Office, I feel as an eyewitness it is important to point out the true reason behind his death ('Rescue delayed by 'hidden' fire extinguishers', 2 April). The central question in this sad case must be the initial reasons for Mr Pekoz's self-immolation.

After the flames had been quenched and when Mr Pekoz must have been in considerable pain, he shouted emphatically about his reasons for the protest. He said, 'I have six kids. I want to bring them here. What sort of human rights do you have? I want to show the world.'

The reason for his demonstration and therefore for his death was the treatment by the Home Office of his claim for asylum. The standard delay on consideration of an asylum claim is between one and a half and two years. During this time the asylum seeker has no security and does not know whether he will be returned to the country he has fled from, where he could face persecution, torture and even death. This anxiety, together with the obvious cultural and language problems that are to be encountered, cause asylum seekers a great deal of distress. In addition, they are not allowed to be joined by their families.

Asylum seekers are more frequently given exceptional leave to remain than refugee status. Consequently they face a further four years' separation before their family may be allowed to join them. Obviously, where delay is experienced in the decision-making process the period of separation is prolonged. It is these factors that resulted in Mr Pekoz's death.

Asylum seekers are a particularly vulnerable sector of society and therefore are owed the highest duty of care. This protest typifies what many asylum seekers feel and it would be a very considerable shame if this sad and hopeless death was not considered sufficiently important to bring about changes in the very prejudicial and unreasonable rules and procedures which led to this tragic and unnecessary death.

Yours sincerely,

ELIZABETH BATHA

London, W11

2 April

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