Suicides of asylum seekers in Home Office accommodation double in last four years

A view of the Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge, where Albanian asylum seeker Leonard Farruku is believed to have died by suicide. (Andrew Matthews/Pool Photo via AP/Alamy)

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Almost two dozen people are believed to have killed themselves since 2020

Reports Aaron Walawalkar for Liberty Investigates and Diane Taylor for the Guardian. Edited by Harriet Clugston, Liberty Investigates’ editor.


A total of 23 asylum seekers are thought to have killed themselves in Home Office accommodation in the last four years, more than double the total in the previous four years, Liberty Investigates and the Guardian have learned.

It comes as a medical expert raised concerns about potential safeguarding failings after reviewing details of one recent case in which a 63-year-old Colombian was found dead in his East Sussex hotel room after showing signs of distress in the two months prior.

Records compiled by Liberty Investigates as part of its Asylum Seeker Memorial Project, and shared with the Guardian, show that at least 23 people are confirmed or suspected to have died by suicide between 2020 and so far in 2023.

Between April 2016 and the end of 2019, 10 people are thought to have killed themselves, according to freedom of information data. In further data from 2020 until August 2023, 19 people are thought to have died by suicide, and since then, a further four asylum seekers are believed to have brought the total to at least 23.

The new data has emerged just days after an Albanian asylum seeker, Leonard Farruku, was reported to have taken his life on the Bibby Stockholm barge which is moored in Portland, Dorset.

A total of 176 people have died in government asylum seeker accommodation from a variety of causes as of 27 August this year, according to Home Office freedom of information data. A further four deaths in the remaining months of 2023 – all of which are thought to have been self-inflicted – have come to light via other means, such as media reports, bringing the known toll to 180.

Asylum seekers died in Home Office accommodation at a rate of about one every two weeks in the first eight months of 2023.This appears to have fallen from the very high peaks in the years 2020 to 2022, when there was one death every eight days on average – though the true figures for the entirety of 2023 are yet to be disclosed and could prove higher.

Asylum seekers are generally barred from working while they await the result of their claim. The Government has a statutory duty to house them during this time.

Records from individual cases of suspected and confirmed suicide shed light on the levels of despair among those accommodated in asylum seeker housing, which includes hotels and barracks alongside the recent move to barges and former prisons.

In February 2022 a 25-year-old Eritrean killed himself at a train station. In August last year a 29-year-old Iranian died “by apparent suicide” after having applied for asylum 14 months earlier, according internal Home Office records.

More recent cases from this year include those of Irakli Kapanadze, 37, found dead outside his asylum hotel in Wakefield on 14 September this year, and Rima al-Badi, a 21-year-old from Oman, who is said to have taken her own life on 1 September 2023 after more than a year in a Home Office hotel.

On 13 October 2023, 63-year-old Victor Hugo Pereira Vargas, from Colombia, was found with apparently self-inflicted wounds in his hotel room in Hailsham, East Sussex. A Sussex police spokesperson said his death was “not being treated as suspicious”.

Hotel staff had witnessed Vargas “visibly distressed” two months earlier on 16 August, according to documents seen by reporters. He asked them to ring the police as he wanted to leave the UK and go anywhere except his home country.

On 11 September, he complained to staff of being unable to sleep for three days, and was booked for a GP mental health appointment.

Vargas was reported missing from his hotel on 25 September, documents show. When he returned the next day, he reportedly told staff he was robbed of his wallet and documents by a group of Colombians he met and whose help he sought to get to an airport.

Records suggest Vargas wanted to report this to the police but did not as he did not know the identities of the suspects. Clearsprings did not confirm if its staff attempted to support him in referring the case to the police. Neither London Metropolitan nor Sussex Police had a record of the alleged robbery.

Dr Juliet Cohen, a forensic physician who reviewed details of the “tragic case”, said the failure to report this crime to the police appeared “contrary to the provider Clearsprings’ Safeguarding policy”.

She added: “For asylum seekers living restricted, dependent lives in this kind of accommodation the Home Office has taken responsibility for their welfare. The accommodation provider and the Home Office have a critical role and duty of care for such vulnerable people, made more vulnerable by their current circumstances.”

Vargas remained at the hotel for just over two more weeks. After Vargas failed to turn up for breakfast, security personnel broke into his room, which appeared to be barricaded from the inside, and found him dead.

One asylum seeker who was living at the same hotel said: “We were so shocked about what happened to Victor. He used to go down for breakfast at 7am the same time as me. But one morning he just didn’t appear. None of us were given support or counselling to help us deal with this.”

This is accommodation where room-sharing is increasingly required of often traumatised people left to exist in the severest poverty ... One consequence is plummeting mental health.

Graham O'Neill, policy manager at the Scottish Refugee Council

Graham O’Neill, the policy manager at the Scottish Refugee Council, said the revelations pointed to something “badly wrong … in what is a juggernaut of institutional accommodation affecting over 50,000 refugees”.

He continued: “This is accommodation where room-sharing is increasingly required of often traumatised people left to exist in the severest poverty of £1.25 a day and not allowed to work. One consequence is plummeting mental health.

“We urge that [the Home Secretary] now instigates a European Convention on Human Rights-compliant Right to Life inquiry into why so many people who came here for safety have ended up dead in asylum accommodation under [his and predecessors’] jurisdiction, especially since 2020.”

Cornelius Katona, medical and research director at the Helen Bamber Foundation, said: “Refugees and asylum seekers have higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety disorders than the general population – conditions which carry an increased risk of suicide.”

A spokesperson for Clearsprings Ready Homes, one of three private companies that has contracts with the Home Office to provide asylum accommodation, including at the property where Vargas died, said: “For data protection reasons we cannot comment on individual cases, however we are always saddened to hear of the death of any individual in our accommodation.

“The wellbeing of service users housed by us is always of primary concern. We work closely with a range of organisations and professionals who offer further support to those who need it.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The welfare of all those in our care is of the utmost importance. Any death in asylum accommodation is a tragic event, and will be subject to investigation by the police and coroner.

“We work continually to ensure the needs and vulnerabilities of those residing in asylum accommodation are identified and considered, including those related to mental health and trauma.”

  • In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on freephone 116 123, or email or In the US, you can call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 988, chat on, or text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at

A version of this article was published with the Guardian.