Monday, 15 March 2010

Asylum system contributed to these deaths

Saturday's Guardian revealed that the asylum seeking family who apparently committed joint suicide in Glasgow last week by jumping from the balcony of their high rise flat, previously lived in the flats opposite Brent Town Hall in Forty Lane.

The Serykh's, originally from Russia, arrived in the UK from Canada. The deaths occurred after the family's asylum application had been refused and they were told that  financial support and housing would be withdrawn.

Serge Serykh appeared to be suffering from a mental illness.  He claimed to have been a Russian secret agent and to have been given refuge in Canada for 'services rendered'. However he fled Canada as a result of feeling he would be a target for the Canadian secret service because he had discovered a Canadian ploit to kill the Queen.

Barry Gardiner, Labour MP for North Brent, had given the family advice at his asylum surgery when they lived in Wembley.  Gardiner has become embroiled in an argument with campaigners who claim that the brutality of the asylum system, and particularly the withdrawal of financial and housing support, was to blame for the deaths.

Gardiner told the Guardian, "I am not qualified to judge his mental health, but in layman's terms he had paranoia. My overwhelming impression is that this was a tragedy that was always going to happen. He was not an ordinary person driven to suicide by the Kafkaesque immigration system, as some people seem to be suggesting."

I do not doubt the hard work that Barry Gardiner does on immigration and asylum. I was particularly impressed when I took a Kosovan family to his surgery for help and he gave time to their 10 year old daughter who insisted on an individual interview to put the family's case. He has an enormous workload on these issues.

However, I think his comment underestimates the stress caused by the withdrawal of support, threat of homelessness and fear of deportation experienced by all asylum seekers. It is likely that it was  not a matter of either mental illness or withdrawal of support being the cause of the likely suicides, but that withdrawal of support was the final straw that literally drove the family, already suffering the father's mental illness, over the edge. They died on the day they were told to leave their flat.

Under pressure from the media and the far right, the government has adopted a 'tough' policy on asylum that does us no credit. Forcing families into destitution and detaining children at Yarl's Wood offends any concept of a decent society.

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