Ninety-five people have died in asylum accommodation since April 2016, almost double the figure recently admitted by the government and comes amid fears the Home Office has deliberately downplayed the death toll.
The data also reveals a stark increase in the number of deaths of those housed under asylum support provisions, such as in hotels, in the past two years.
Deaths leapt from four in 2019 to 36 in 2020 – a ninefold increase – with a further 33 people in the first eight months of 2021, bringing total deaths since the start of 2020 to 69 people, according to freedom of information (FoI) requests by Liberty Investigates.
Sabir Zazai, chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, called the figures “devastating” and urged an independent inquiry to establish why so many people in the state’s care were dying.
As recently as three months ago the Home Office said 51 people had died in its asylum accommodation following FoI requests made by the Scottish Refugee Council.
33 deaths are missing from the FOI the Home Office sent the Scottish Refugee CouncilLiberty Investigates
The new, much higher number of deaths, has shocked experts and raised questions over the significant discrepancy in death tolls.
Both the two FoI requests made by the Scottish Refugee Council and Liberty Investigates requested deaths of people housed under four sections of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.
Pressed for an explanation, the Home Office said the discrepancy came from their interpretation of an extra phrase included in the request from the Scottish Refugee Council’s – “whilst staying in asylum support accommodation”.
“Whether it’s directly in accommodation or outside, these vulnerable individuals are still in the care of the secretary of state”Toufique Hossain, director of public law at Duncan Lewis Solicitors
Stuart McDonald, SNP home affairs spokesperson, described the new figures as “appalling” and demanded reassurances that the discrepancy was not a deliberate Home Office decision to lower the number of deaths.
He said: “A reasonable person reading [the original] request would not interpret it in that way. We need reassurance from the Home Office that this is because somebody interpreted the [first] FoI wrong and not because they were deliberately taking a restrictive view on it,” he said.
The Home Office, he added, should promise to publish annual data on deaths in asylum accommodation “openly and transparently.”
Causing further confusion is that the response to the second of two FoI requests made by the Scottish Refugee Council included references to three deaths that took place “at hospital” – prompting concern the Home Office had even treated its two requests differently despite being based on identical wording. The department later said it had included deaths in external settings in its response to the second request due to “human error”.
Toufique Hossain, director of public law at Duncan Lewis solicitors, described the discrepancies as “staggering.”
He said. “What they’re obviously trying to do [in the first release of figures] is say: ‘It’s not as a result of, or connected to, our accommodation.”
The steep rise in deaths coincides with the Home Office decision in 2020 to push thousands of asylum seekers into hotels. The Home Office claims this was to protect them from the spread of Covid-19, but drew heavy criticism from campaigners.