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“…Our Government May Be Heartless But British People Are Usually Ok”

Updated: May 23

When Leonard Farruku died by suicide on board Bibby Stockholm, the UK’s first off-shore asylum accommodation, it was for his family a “double tragedy explained Farruku’s sister. Farruku died 2,000 miles away from his family and they could not afford to bring his body back to their home country, Albania. The UK government has refused to support Farruku’s family in any way.

Grief-stricken, but hopeful, Farruku’s family set up a GoFundMe page with a target of £10,000 to cover the cost of bringing Farruku’s body home.

So far, the fundraiser has made nearly double this target. One doner commented: “I’m so sorry for your loss. I hope our donations show you that our government may be heartless but British people are usually ok."

Repatriation was not offered to Farruku’s family by the Home Office because the Home Office only pays for repatriation following a death if the person is in detained detention, and Bibby Stockholm is not officially a detention centre but an “accommodation vessel”. The Home Office claims that residents on board Bibby Stockholm can leave at will, which is at best deceptive and at worst a lie.

Men seeking asylum in the UK face the potential of being moved onto Bibby Stockholm, berthed in Portsmouth. Those who refuse are threatened with homelessness or immediate deportation. To access activities and events in Portsmouth, the men on Bibby Stockholm are forced to rely on coaches to transport them. The movement of the men on board is controlled and monitored by 24-hour CCTV and security guards, security measures promised to the population of Portsmouth by the UK government.

The last time Farruku spoke to his sister, he told her that “the conditions [on Bibby Stockholm] were not bad but they were treated like animals”. This account is not incongruent with those of other people living in asylum accommodations across the UK.

Since 2016, there have been 179 recorded deaths of people seeking asylum living asylum accommodation in the UK. Prior to Farruku’s tragic death, there have been 23 people seeking asylum who have died by suicide in asylum accommodation since 2020. This reveals a systemic failure by the UK government to comply with its obligation and duty to care for refugees.

Completely contradicting the government’s perception, recent global studies situate Britons as having among the most positive attitudes towards refugees in the world, with almost 60% of Britons believing refugees make a positive contribution to society. Almost two-thirds of Britons believe refugees who arrive in the UK via clandestine routes deserve the same rights and treatment as refugees who are brought to the UK by the government. The same number again believe that the UK has a moral duty to welcome refugees fleeing war or persecution.

In an unforgivable disjunction from public opinion, the UK government, and the leader of the opposition, Kier Starmer, are vehemently fixated on viciously eroding refugee rights and stoking angry, xenophobic, anti-migration rhetoric.

Serving as a reminder of the compassion and sympathy shared by most, Farruku’s sister thanked the contributors to her GoFundMe page, writing:

“Your kindness and generosity will be in my heart for the rest of my life and bring to our family the same sort of comfort now being able to repatriate his body.“It’s a strong demonstration of the people's humanity in the UK compared to the Home Office not willing to help for the body of my brother to be repatriated in Albania.”  Image: Ashley Smith

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