Overworked social workers struggled to take effective measures to support a vulnerable Eritrean teenager who sought asylum and then committed suicide, a study has found.
The death of Alexander Tekle, who died a few months after he was 18 and less than a year after arriving in the UK, was a tragedy, Westminster coroner Bernard Richmond said. Tekle committed suicide in Mitcham, South London, in December 2017.
A dispute over Tekle’s real age meant he was placed in inappropriate adult housing when he was a child. Tekle had made progress in arranging his life under the care of the Kent County Council before he was wrongly deemed to have turned 18, and as a result he lost the support services available to unaccompanied minor asylum seekers. The coroner concluded that Kent “did nothing as much as they could have done to keep Alex in their custody”, and as a result, an opportunity to support him was lost.
Several factors led him to fall through the net, the coroner concluded, stressing that he had been assigned to an inexperienced social worker when instead he needed someone who acknowledged that he was in a “destructive spiral.”
The inquest found that another social worker responsible for Tekle’s welfare, working with 25 young people, was struggling to find the time to provide the intensive support he needed.
Tekle’s inquest is the latest to hear of the suicides of four young Eritrean asylum seekers, all friends, who were killed within a 16-month period of arriving in the UK. The investigations have spotlighted how young unaccompanied asylum seekers are received by local authorities upon arrival in the UK.
Tekle was described by the coroner as a “beloved and loving son and brother” who “in his short life faced a number of challenges that no 16- or 17-year-old should face”.
He arrived in the UK in late December 2016, hidden in the back of a refrigerated lorry, weeks after French police cleared the informal refugee camp in Calais.
The inquest revealed that Tekle started using alcohol the year he lived in very difficult and dangerous conditions in the Calais camp, and that he had developed a serious alcohol addiction by the time he was transferred from Kent to London, when he was placed in care. of the borough of Croydon. Friends said he used alcohol to manage the extreme stress associated with seeing fellow refugees die while traveling from Eritrea and the constant fear he felt about problems with his asylum application. He was also very depressed by the recent suicide of his friend Filmon Yemane.
Although two of his key associates gave him support “beyond what could be expected,” they were unable to get Tekle into an alcohol rehabilitation center fast enough.
Yemane had recently turned 18 when he committed suicide in November 2017. Osman Ahmed Nur, 19, was found dead on 10 May 2018 in a communal area of a youth hostel in Camden, north London. Mulubrhane Medhane Kfleyosus, 19, was found dead in Milton Keynes on February 18, 2019.
Benjamin Hunter, who met Tekle as a volunteer in Calais, and who continued to support him in the UK, said: “The broader context of this is that the UK Government has cut to the bone the budgets available for local government children’s services. This government has scapegoated asylum seekers and attacked unaccompanied children as fraudsters.
“Alex was very caring. He wanted to study, improve his English, give back to his family. He will be forever missed by his parents, his older brother, his two younger sisters and those of us who were his friends. We want to make sure make sure what happened to Alex never happens to anyone again.”
Helen Johnson, the head of children’s services at the Refugee Council, said the barriers facing refugee children seeking the care and support they need upon arrival in the UK are “hugely damaging”. “Often, the capacity and capability of highly pressured and underserved child welfare services means that the needs of these extremely vulnerable children and young people are not always met. We urgently need to review the way our asylum system and the social care of our children treat them so that they have the best possible chance for a secure future,” she said.