Three teenage asylum seekers killed themselves in the UK in the past three months according to a Guardian report. This adds to the 446 suicide attempts by asylum seekers recorded in 2017 and a further 1,000 migrants who took part in hunger strikes within UK detention centres.
The three young men – Filmon Yemane, Alexander Tekle and another unnamed at his family’s request – had applied for asylum and were left in limbo. They were living out of hostels, uncertain of their application status, and saw many of the provisions and safeguards they relied on to enter the country agonisingly roll back.
Several hundred unaccompanied child migrants like these have made their way to the country in recent years, largely owing to the Dubs Amendment to the Immigration Act. This bill was kerosene for a right wing press who profit from igniting latent racism back in 2016. They delighted in questioning the ages of the refugees with paparazzi-style photographer harassment and endless demands for pseudoscientific dental checks to determine their actual ages.
Among the more bizarre features that served to highlight their stellar journalism were the Daily Mail using a Microsoft facial recognition application labelled ‘strictly for fun’ in order to ‘expose the frauds’, and The Sun taking aim at a man who ‘looked at least 30’ but actually turned out to be a social worker escorting the migrants.
In contrast, the Daily Mail have not yet reported on these suicides, all three of whom arrived as children – their ages confirmed by documents sent from their native Eritrea. They were all acquainted with each other from staying at the same North London hostel.
For all the media furore surrounding its implementation, the Dubs Scheme was ultimately capped at 480 children; Lord Dubs hoped that it would help at least 3,000. News of the scheme being scrapped made the bottom of page 6 of the Daily Mail, and was allocated a mere five paragraphs in The Sun; whereas news of the arrival of children under the scheme previously made the front page of both, with the Sun running with the headline ‘Are you kidding? Calais ‘children’ arrive in UK’.
A friend of Yemane claimed he was ‘worried about the Home Office’ before he took his own life. The UK interior ministry is under fire for its Hostile Environment migration policy, starting when now-Prime Minister Theresa May was Home Secretary and resulting in Amber Rudd losing her job in May for lying about the existence, and her knowledge, of deportation quotas.
‘Go Home’ vans, a set of indecipherable and contradictory policies derided as ‘Byzantine’ by the England and Wales Court of Appeals and a ‘deport first, appeal later’ motto became cornerstones of the Hostile Environment policy: intentionally awkward at best and antagonistic at worst structures designed to grind down their targets.
The combination of harassment from bureaucrats whose job performance metrics consist of how many brown people they can kick off the island with a Murdoch press reliant on dehumanising these ‘cockroaches’ (in the words of the Daily Mail and Sun columnist Katie Hopkins) is a potent cocktail on young individuals who lack any kind of roots or support networks in a country to which they exist on the fringes.
Alexander Tekle travelled as a child from Eritrea to the Nato-destroyed, slave-trading Libyan rubble from where he was trafficked to Europe, lived in makeshift camps and travelled in refrigerator trucks before arriving in the UK. But none of this deflated him quite like the cruel, intentional lethargy of a hostile Home Office, nor the callousness of a UK mainstream press which treated him like something you wince at and rub off your shoe. This was too painful.
He told his friend Benny Hunter – who honours the young man he met in Calais and became close to beautifully in a Guardian piece – that he didn’t want to be “Africa boy” any longer. He demanded nothing material from this country, just his dignity and security.
Theresa May says she is ‘concerned’ about Jeff Sessions’ policy of separating migrant children from their parents and caging them across the Atlantic. Our cages are not as literal, but no less stifling.