Eritrean refugee killed himself after 'stress' of immigration status

Eritrean refugee killed himself after 'stress' of immigration status

January 5, 2022

‘He regretted ever coming to Britain’: Eritrean refugee, 18, killed himself less than a year after arriving in UK while ‘stressed’ over his immigration status and traumatised by friend’s suicide

  • Alexander Tekle took his own life in Mitcham, South London, in December 2017
  • Alex, from Eritrea, was smuggled into the UK in the back of a refrigerated lorry
  • An inquest heard Alex, 18, was struggling with alcoholism and was traumatised
  • He was stressed by his immigration status and ‘regretted’ coming, court heard 
  • For confidential support, call the Samaritans on 116123 or visit a local Samaritans branch. See www.samaritans.org for details

A teenage refugee who killed himself was struggling with alcoholism, traumatised by his friend’s suicide and worried about his application to stay in the UK, an inquest has heard.

Alexander Tekle, from Eritrea, East Africa, was found dead in Mitcham, south London, in December 2017, less than a year after arriving in the UK and shortly after his 18th birthday, Westminster Coroner’s Court heard.

While staying at a hostel for adult asylum seekers in London, Alexander, known as Alex, was assaulted and stabbed in the street in a random attack, MyLondon reported.

The inquest was told that Alexander was struggling with alcoholism and was stressed by his ‘uncertain’ immigration status, while his girlfriend said he ‘regretted ever coming to the UK’.

Alexander Tekle (pictured), from Eritrea, East Africa, was found dead in south London, in December 2017, less than a year after arriving in the UK, Westminster Coroner’s Court heard

His friends told the court they believed drinking was how he dealt with the trauma he had experienced, including his close friend’s suicide, who was also an Eritrean asylum seeker.

While trekking across the desert from Eritrea, Alex saw women and children die before he lived in a tent in Calais’ Jungle camp for around a year, the inquest heard.

Alex, then 17, was rejected by the Home Office to come to the UK legally after the camp was cleared, and Alex smuggled himself into the country in the back of a lorry at the end of 2016.

His girlfriend Luul Mohamed said in a statement that Alex had told her that he had seen people die in front of him while walking through the desert.

Ms Mohamed told the court that Alex had an alcohol problem and would become ‘angry and violent’ after drinking, while he was normally ‘calm and quiet’.

She said his ‘uncertain’ immigration status caused him ‘a lot of stress’, saying he told her that he didn’t know why he ‘bothered’ to come to the UK because he couldn’t get his papers. 

Benny Hunter (left), a British charity worker, said his friend Alex slept in the woods in Calais when he was rejected for asylum in the UK, before coming to the country in the back of a lorry

She added: ‘He said he regretted ever coming to the UK. Alex thought no-one wanted to help him.’

In a statement, Alex’s father Tecle Sium Tesfamichel described his son, who wanted to be a professional cyclist, as a ‘loveable and sociable young man’ who was always ‘looking after other people’.

He continued: ‘Although he didn’t say much about how he was feeling, I know he must have been very scared about what he saw.

‘When he arrived in the UK at the end of 2016 he was so relieved. He missed his family desperately and told his sisters he hoped they would join him in the UK and go to school there. He wanted to find a job and send money to help and support us.

‘When I think of Alex and the hopes for his life in the UK and know he has gone, I feel deeply sad. I didn’t know much about the problems Alex had in the UK at the time.’

His devastated father said that he still doesn’t understand what happened to his son and said he believed Alex would be ‘safe’ in the UK.

He added: ‘I hope the inquest will help me understand what happened leading up to Alex’s death and if any lessons can be learnt to help protect this from happening to other young people.’ 

Benny Hunter, a British charity worker who became friends with Alex, also gave evidence to the court and said Alex slept in the woods in Calais when he was rejected for asylum in the UK.

Mr Hunter said he was told by police in December 2016 that Alex had made it into the UK in the back of a refrigerated lorry, and was staying at a children’s immigration centre in Ashford, Kent.

The inquest was told that Alexander, known as Alex, (pictured) was struggling with alcoholism and was stressed by his immigration status, saying he ‘regretted ever coming to the UK’

But the inquest heard there was a dispute over Alex’s age as he initially told a social worker he turned 18 a few weeks later, but official documents said he would turn 18 in August.

Alex was moved to a hostel for adult asylum seekers in London after Kent social services ruled it would be ‘unsafe’ for him to stay in children’s accommodation, the inquest was told.

The teenager was assaulted at the adult hostel and became homeless. He developed a drinking problem and was admitted to hospital on several occasions with hypoglycaemia – a low blood sugar level which can be caused by heavy drinking and not eating enough.

Alex’s inquest is the fourth to be heard into the suicides of four Eritrean asylum seekers, who all died within a 16-month period.

Their deaths raised concerns over how young refugees are being treated in the UK, as the boys were at an age where they were not eligible for support and were unable to work.

Alex, Filmon Yemane, 18, Mulubrhane Medhane Kfleyosus and Osman Ahmed Nur all took their own lives after being smuggled across the Channel from Calais’ Jungle camp. 

The inquest continues. 

For confidential support, call the Samaritans on 116123 or visit a local Samaritans branch. See www.samaritans.org for details.

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