Child refugee dies of heart attack in French accommodation centre months after leaving Calais 'Jungle'

Autopsy shows Samir had suffered a number of minor cardiac arrests prior to the fatal incident, sparking suggestions of an existing condition that went undetected due to lack of medical care

May Bulman
Thursday 12 January 2017 18:02 GMT
Samir (top row sixth from left) was 'one of the kindest, most gentle teenagers you’d meet', according to a volunteer at the centre, and was seeking asylum in France after his application was rejected by the Home Office
Samir (top row sixth from left) was 'one of the kindest, most gentle teenagers you’d meet', according to a volunteer at the centre, and was seeking asylum in France after his application was rejected by the Home Office (Taize community)

An unaccompanied minor living in a children’s accommodation centre in France after spending months in the Calais ‘Jungle’ has died of a heart attack.

Samir, a 17-year-old from Sudan, died at the reception centre in the town of Ameugny, in the eastern Saône-et-Loire region, after he was found unconscious at the foot of his bed during the night. Paramedics were called to the scene, but were unable to resuscitate him.

An autopsy stated the teenager would have already had several small undetected cardiac arrests, and that a virus he caught a few days earlier weakened him to the point his heart could no longer function.

A judicial investigation into the death is currently underway, according to a spokesman for the mayor of Saône-et-Loire, who declined to comment on the death until proceedings were concluded.

Volunteers within the Taizé community, who are responsible for the refugees in the centre, had been unaware the youngster had any form of heart condition. He had reportedly undergone a medical check on arrival at the centre, but no heart-related problems were detected.

Francois Benoit, a leader in the Taizé community who works with the refugees, told The Independent he believed Samir's death could have possibly been prevented if he had had more rigorous medical checks over recent years.

“It is possible that because of the lack of medical attention Samir had while in the Jungle and during his journey, an existing problem wasn't diagnosed earlier,” Mr Benoit said.

Identified only as Samir, the teenager had recently been informed that his application for asylum in the UK had been rejected by the Home Office, and was preparing to register for residency in France.

“Samir arrived here in November from Calais, along with 16 other children. He had been living in the Jungle for a few months,“ Mr Benoit said.

“Four of the minors have recently moved to the UK, but he was one of those who were rejected. While some are contesting decision, he had decided to seek a safe life in France.

“Samir was one of the kindest, most gentle teenagers you’d meet. You would never have known all the things he had been through from the way he conducted himself.”

The youngster’s mother and brother, who he had been in contact with in previous weeks, have reportedly been informed of his death through contact details Samir had saved on his phone.

With the agreement of his mother, the funeral will be held in Ameugny, according to Mr Benoit, and is likely to take place on Friday, conducted by a local Imam, because Samir was a Muslim.

He said the other child refugees living in the community were “very shocked” and “saddened” by their friend’s death.

“It's very shocking for all of us,” added Mr Benoit.

“The other youngsters have been upset, and they are keen to have his funeral as soon as possible, in keeping with Muslim tradition. A local Imam visited on the weekend to support them, which helped a lot.

“Amid the sadness and shock, there has been a remarkable show of solidarity among the children, which has also extended to the wider community.”

Lynn King, co-founder of UK-based organisation Social Workers Without Borders, which is working with 37 children in France, including one at the centre in Taizé, said she was concerned about the impact the sudden death would have on unaccompanied minors across France.

Ms King told The Independent: “We are concerned about the impact on the minors who lived with the young boy, and for the other children throughout the centres in France at the moment. They are all going to find out.

“It will add to the continued uncertainty, and increase their sense of helplessness and fear. It's unusual for this to happen to someone so young.”

In December, some of the minors living in the Taizé centre went on hunger strike in protest at the lack of information they were given by the Home Office with regards to their asylum applications.

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