Suicide at refugee centre sparks hunger strike

An official inquiry has been launched into the death of an asylum-seeker, found hanged by his shoelaces in a detention centre. Mikhail Bodnarchuk was due to be deported back to Ukraine the day after he killed himself.

The suicide of Mr Bodnarchuk has alarmed campaigners who believe that the Government's determination to detain more refugees and deport them more quickly will lead to more deaths.

A week after Mr Bodnarchuk's body was found hanging from the ceiling of a washroom at Haslar removal centre in Gosport, Hampshire, a second man, understood to be from Africa, is in a critical condition in hospital after he also tried to hang himself on Friday.

The death of Mr Bodnarchuk, 42, a former soldier, has prompted a hunger strike in protest at conditions at the centre. Inmates are strip-searched on arrival, issued with a uniform and held behind locked security doors.

More than 1,800 asylum-seekers are currently locked up in detention centres in the UK and denied access to bail even though they have committed no crime.

The Home Affairs Select Committee is investigating the issue of self-harm and suicide in detention centres as part of an official inquiry into asylum removals.

Rosy Bremer, from Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID), said the extreme psychological distress of many asylum-seekers was exacerbated by their treatment in Britain. "In the Government's mind, asylum-seekers are almost non-human," she said.

One former Haslar detainee said: "I saw fellow asylum-seekers going clinically insane, attempting suicide. You would think these scenes would trigger human rights probes but not when it is 'only' asylum-seekers."

The Institute of Race Relations has recorded at least three suicides at UK detention centres. At Haslar, there have been at least four attempted suicides over the past three years. Detainees said they were too afraid to speak out about their treatment.

Mr Bodnarchuk came to Britain in September 2000, leaving behind his wife and two children. Immigration officials mistakenly accused him of claiming asylum under two identities. His claim was turned down and he was served a deportation order.

"People are shocked and devastated," said a source who was unwilling to be named.

"He was fleeing persecution, and chose to take his own life rather than allow his tormentors to take it for him."

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