Father of asylum seeker who took his own life says he was ‘failed at the crucial time’

The father of an unaccompanied asylum seeker who took his own life less than a year after arriving in the UK has said that he was “failed at the crucial time”.

Alexander Tekle was just 18 when he was found dead in his shared local authority accommodation in Mitcham, on December 6, 2017.

At the recent inquest into his death, the coroner found that both Kent County council and Croydon council had lost opportunities to provide him with the help and support he required.

During his time in the UK the Eritrean national struggled with alcohol addiction and homelessness and was worried about his immigration status.

He was also affected by the death of his friend and fellow Eritrean asylum seeker Filman Yemane, who took his own life a few weeks before Mr Tekle.

Mr Tekle’s father Tecle Tesfamichel described him as loving, caring and having a great sense of humour.

He said: “He made an incredibly difficult journey and he thought that things would finally get better for him in the UK.

“Hearing that social services, who were supposed to be looking after him, were inexperienced and didn’t care for him in the way they should have was shocking.

“Alex was a traumatised child who needed help, and he shouldn’t have been distrusted and undermined by workers who were there to support him.”

Mr Tesfamichel added that Mr Tekle had self-harmed and said he wanted to kill himself on a number of occasions.

He said: “Children who are seeking asylum need more care and support, and although people tried to help my son, he was failed at the crucial time.”

Mr Tekle arrived in the UK at the end of December 2016 after spending some time in a camp in Calais.

During a dispute about his age, he was placed in adult Home Office accommodation while he was still a child.

The coroner said that Kent County council, who was caring for Mr Tekle at the time, were “positively encouraging and agitating” the move.

Kent County council has denied that it encouraged the move, saying that it “believes it did all it could to obtain the required authentication in the available timeframe”.

Mr Tekle was then brought to the attention of Croydon council.

While under the care of Croydon, he was allocated an inexperienced social worker who “was not as engaged with him as she could or should have been” and was unable to recognise his “destructive spiral”.

The coroner stated that although there were people within social services who provided him with a good deal of support, these people were extremely overworked.

Assessments of Mr Tekle’s mental health were not adequately carried out, even after it became apparent he was self-harming in November 2017, meaning he was not provided with the proper support, including a rehabilitation programme.

The coroner concluded that both Kent County Council and Croydon Council failed to recognise how complex Mr Tekle’s case was.

The inquest into Mr Tekle’s death follows three other inquests relating to the deaths of young Eritrean asylum seekers.

The four friends all took their lives within a 16-month period after arriving in the UK.

A Kent County Council spokeswoman said: “The death of any young person is a tragedy and we are deeply saddened by the loss of Alexander. Our thoughts are with his friends and family.

“The council has a statutory duty to safeguard all children in Kent, and Alexander was taken into the care of the council on his arrival in Kent in 2016 and accommodated as a looked after child in accordance with his original claimed date of birth.

“Alexander subsequently stated a change to his date of birth making him younger than originally claimed, thus changing his eligibility for services.

“Although a translated document said to be a birth certificate from Eritrea was provided two months after his arrival in Kent in support of the second date of birth, Home Office authentication of the document was not received prior to Alexander turning 18 on the original date of birth provided on arrival in the UK.

“The Council believes it did all it could to obtain the required authentication in the available timeframe, and regrettably disagrees with the conclusion reached by the coroner that it was “positively encouraging and agitating” the move into Home Office control.

“However, in the absence of that authentication and in accordance with Statutory Guidance, the Council believes that it was bound to follow the processes and procedures under those regulations and return him back to the Home Office as an adult.

“Once again we would like to offer our sincerest condolences to all who knew Alexander.”

A Croydon council spokeswoman said: “We were much saddened by Alexander’s tragic death in 2017. We are constantly reviewing our practices to strengthen and ensure the effectiveness of the support we provide for vulnerable young people.”

Pictured top: Alexander Tekle (credit: Benny Hunter)

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