Freedom News

Asylum seeker hangs himself rather than move to the Bibby Stockholm

On Thursday 26th October, a 23-year-old asylum-seeker hanged himself from a tree in the car park of a hotel in Colchester, where he was living, after learning that he was to be transferred to the Bibby Stockholm barge this coming Tuesday because his hotel is due to be stood down by the Home Office.

After returning to his hotel at around 6 pm, the young man saw that his room number was one of a small number which had been handwritten on a whiteboard in the hotel reception. They were accompanied by a message informing the rooms’ residents that they would be transferred to the Bibby Stockholm on Tuesday. (The asylum-seekers should instead each have received an official, personal letter from the Home Office in their own language, which would also have given a longer notice period and guidance.)

On seeing the whiteboard, the young man immediately walked to an adjacent vehicle repair centre and located a length of blue nylon rope. Back at the hotel car park, he threw the rope over a branch 20 feet above the ground, used equipment from the hotel to hoist himself up – and then hung himself.

In the twilight, he was only noticed when another asylum-seeker, emerging from the hotel, heard the man choking. With the help of a security guard, he was able to cut the man down. The young asylum-seeker was still alive, but was fitting. A community bus driver attempted to give first aid. Video footage (filmed by a third asylum-seeker) shows the young man lying at the base of the tree before emergency help arrived. The rope and equipment used are clearly visible in the video. An air ambulance later arrived and transported the young man to Colchester Hospital, where he remains on life support. According to Maria Wilby, operational lead at RAMA:

“There are 114 asylum-seekers at the hotel, and a very high number of them have wounds from self-harm. Ten have been on hunger strike because the food is so poor; people are losing significant weight. There have also been six occasions in the past year since the hotel was stood up in November 2022, when our staff, volunteers and colleagues have had to talk people down from the nearby flyover on the A12, from where the asylum-seekers planned to jump and take their own lives. The last time was just two weeks ago.”

Eight other asylum-seekers at the hotel are also due to be transferred to the Bibby Stockholm. Six of them said they would rather kill themselves than be sent there, and RAMA believes that four of them are serious about intending to take their own lives.

The hotel’s impending closure is part of immigration minister Robert Jenrick’s plan to shut down an initial 50 hotels by the end of January in a further bid to ‘stop the boats’, as announced in the House of Commons on 24 October – just two days prior to this suicide attempt.

This incident comes after a letter published in the Guardian on 25 August revealed that conditions on board the Bibby Stockholm drove an asylum-seeker to attempt suicide while he was accommodated there briefly between 7 and 11 August before everyone was evacuated following the discovery of Legionella bacteria on board. Again, it was an asylum-seeker who came to his rescue. A small cohort of asylum-seekers returned to the barge for the first time on 19 October amid dramatic protests by local campaigners and Just Stop Oil.

The young man in Colchester arrived in the UK as an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child (UASC) and lived in foster care until he reached the age of 18. He first came to the attention of Colchester’s refugee support charity, Refugee, Asylum-Seeker & Migrant Action (RAMA), in July 2023. Staff from RAMA are only too well aware of the severe deterioration in mental health experienced by asylum-seekers living in hotels.

The asylum-seeker who filmed the video, and the one who brought the man down from the tree, and those who saw the man hanging or on the ground described feeling traumatised by the incident, particularly since the young man is well known to them. The staff and security guards present at the hotel were also very distressed. As hotel staff, they are not trained by the Home Office to deal with mental health crises among asylum-seekers or to prevent them from killing themselves, and no professional support is in place for them.

Maria Wilby of RAMA said that the decision to send the asylum-seekers to the Bibby Stockholm barge seems particularly unfair:

“They are grieving the fact that the Home Office is closing the hotel down. While it may not be perfect, it’s been their home for up to a year. They’ve planted trees in Colchester, attended therapy here, volunteered here, and made friends here. They are no problem to anyone; local police have confirmed there have been no criminal incidents arising either from the men at the hotel or from other asylum-seekers dispersed in the community. And yet they’ve been treated in a way that is beyond inhumane and disregards all the efforts they have made to find community here. This suicide attempt is the strongest possible protest against that inhumanity and also shows just how much the Bibby Stockholm is feared.”

Image: Ashley Smith / CC BY-SA 4.0 Deed

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