An independent inquiry has concluded that the suicide of 19-year-old Eritrean refugee Mulubrhane Medhane Kfleyosus in 2019 was due to a failure to address his mental health condition, The Guardian reports. Three of his fellow teenage refugees had already taken their own lives in the previous 16 months.
In the UK, four young Eritrean refugees from the same group of friends committed suicide between 2017 and 2019.
This week Tom Osborne, the coroner [an official charged with investigating suspicious and violent deaths to determine the cause] appointed to investigate the cause of death of one of the youths, Mulubrhane Medhane Kfleyosus, delivered his conclusion.
In Osborne's opinion, Kfleyosus killed himself after the serious nature of his mental illness was not recognized, according to The Guardian. Osborne emphasized the traumatic impact of Kfleyosus's exile from Eritrea and in particular his arrival in Britain, hidden in a truck.
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The death of Mulubrhane Medhane Kfleyosus, found lifeless on February 18, 2019 in Milton Keys, halfway between London and Birmingham, has created shockwaves among social services in Britain, particularly those charged with taking care of young refugees.
Transfer from London
The youngster was the fourth of his group of friends to take their own lives in the 16 months since arriving in the UK. According to The Guardian, "Osman Ahmed Nur, 19, was found dead on 10 May 2018 in a communal area of a young people’s hostel in Camden, north London. Filmon Yemane had recently turned 18 when he killed himself in November 2017. And Alexander Tekle, also 18, took his own life a fortnight later in December, a year after arriving in the UK hidden in the back of a refrigerated lorry."
Among the evidence put forward during the investigation into the death of Kfleyosus, emphasis was placed on the decision to transfer the young man at the age of 18 from London to Milton Keynes, despite warnings from the professionals who were supervising him in London.
They highlighted the psychological fragility of the young man, reinforced by the recent suicides of his friends, the fact he was using alcohol, his mental health problems and also the potential for social isolation in Milton Keynes, says The Guardian.
'These kinds of decisions aren't taken in the interests of young people'
Benny Hunter, coordinator of the Da'aron project for young refugees from countries in the Horn of Africa, told the British daily that "more should have been done to safeguard Mulu when he was clearly suffering from a mental illness and was already at risk."
He added: "Four teenagers – who were all friends, and were all asylum seekers and refugees from Eritrea – are now dead by suicide. This is a terrible catastrophe and we believe that changes must now be made by the UK government and by local authorities tasked with the care of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, to deal with the crisis in the mental health needs of this group."
"Why was Mulu moved to Milton Keynes by social services at the age of 18 away from his friends, his community and his support network, to a place where he knew no one at all?" the social worker asked on Twitter.
"These kinds of decisions, taken by local authorities under intense financial pressures due to austerity, aren't taken in the interests of young people."
The deaths of the four young boys raise questions about how safe the UK really is for refugees who have fled danger, and what actions officials need to take to help them and be aware of distress signals.
"For many refugees, the misery and distress resulting from their experiences do not always end upon reaching a safe place. Those who have left their home countries as children and experienced such a lot in their short lives are particularly vulnerable. Most of us can only imagine some of the horrors children have witnessed or experienced themselves.
"For many refugees, the misery and distress resulting from their experiences doesn't always end when they reach a place of safety," said Helen Johnson, the head of children’s services at the Refugee Council, interviewed by The Guardian. Johnson also noted that the trauma experienced by some of the youngest refugees can make them extremely vulnerable psychologically.
"It is really important that everyone involved in the care of young refugees is fully equipped to recognize and respond to their needs. We must also ensure that specialist mental health services are available so that no one misses out on vital help," she added.
Suicide prevention and support
In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org