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Teenage refugee took own life in Camden hostel, inquest hears

The 19-year-old from Eritrea died months after two of his friends also took their own lives

16 August, 2019 — By Samantha Booth

Osman Ahmednur travelled to Britain through Calais

A TEENAGER who came to Britain through the infamous Calais “Jungle” was found hanged at the Camden hostel he was living in, months after two of his refugee friends were also found dead, an inquest has heard.

Osman Ahmednur was discovered in the communal hallway of a hostel in Camden Road run by One Housing, in May last year.

The 19-year-old, who had been studying English at Westminster Kingsway College, had planned to become a carpenter.

St Pancras Coroner’s Court heard this week how he had fled Eritrea, east Africa, where he had been tortured and imprisoned, before crossing the Mediterranean and arriving at Calais.

In 2015, he came to this country from France in the back of a refrigerated lorry, jumping off in King’s Cross.

He was put into care and ended up in the hostel in Camden Road.

The inquest heard that Mr Ahmednur had concerns about his family’s safety, his finances and living at the “noisy” accommodation.

Statements from his friends read to the court said he had appeared stressed before his death, and sometimes drank alcohol and smoked cannabis.

He had been stop-and- searched by police and had been consumed with fear that his refugee status could be revoked and that he might be sent back to Eritrea, the inquest heard.

The inquest heard how Mr Ahmednur’s two friends had also killed themselves in the months before his death.

Filmon Yemane died at another young people’s sheltered accommodation in Allcroft Road, Queen’s Crescent, in November 2017. A fortnight later, Alex Tekle, who was based in south London, took his own life. Both were just 18 years old.

Yohannes Mebrahtom, who travelled with Mr Ahmednur from Calais, told the inquest: “He started saying that he was going to be on the news for smoking drugs. He told me that the newsreader was talking about him.”

Mr Mebrahtom had raised concerns with a key worker and on hearing about his friend’s death, the inquest heard, he said he “knew something like this was going to happen”.

Another statement read to the court, from a friend of Osman’s, Sham Aklilu, said: “It was so shocking that Osman had also died.”

He added: “We were again in total shock and said to each other ‘who is next?’”

Calais was shut down in October 2016

Statements from his friends read out by the coroner revealed details of the treacherous journeys they had made to start a new life in this country.

One detailed how they had managed to escape from prison aged 15 in Eritrea, before fleeing through Libya where he was tortured.

The inquest heard that Sarina Campbell, a child adolescent psychotherapist at the Tavistock clinic, had seen him in 2016.

Through an interpreter, he told her about how he had been tortured in prison in Eritrea.

She said he had not shown any indication of being suicidal and he declined counselling through their services.

Dr Zoe Knight, from Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust, was questioned by senior coroner Mary Hassell on her involvement with Mr Ahmednur.

She had given advice to those working closely with him about ways forward.

Ms Hassell said: “One possibility that jumped out to me is that this young man is becoming psychotic. I’m really surprised that nowhere in this whole discussion is anyone recording that there is a possibility that he might be psychotic.”

Risikat Sanni, a night support worker at the Camden Road hostel, called emergency services when she found Osman during a patrol through the building.

She said she had nicknamed him “smiley face”, as he was “always smiling” but she did not know him well.

She said she was not aware of details about his two brothers, who were in Egypt and Sudan.

The inquest heard that an email had been sent out to some staff saying: “He feels himself responsible to support them financially. It’s too much for him to bear.” She said she had not received training on the specific risks of unaccompanied young asylum seekers.

A spokeswoman for One Housing said: “We are deeply saddened by the death of Osman.

“He was popular with our staff team and had just one more section to complete for his Duke of Edinburgh bronze award.

“One Housing is fully cooperating with the ongoing inquiry, alongside offering counselling and support to our staff and Osman’s fellow residents at this difficult time.”

A Camden Council spokesman said: “We are fully committed to taking an active part in the process which seeks to establish the circumstances around Osman’s tragic death.”

A joint statement from Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust and Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We would like to extend our deepest condolences to family and friends affected by this tragic incident.

“We cannot comment further at this time due to the ongoing inquest.”

The inquest, which is not being heard before a jury, continues.

Anyone struggling is urged to call the Samaritans who offer free and confidential advice during times of crisis. You can contact them on 116 123  or email jo@samaritans.org

Friends shaken by tragic death

Benny Hunter and Alex Tekle

A CAMPAIGNER who helped Eritrean refugees arriving in Britain said the death of the young men has had a “terrible and profound impact” on those who knew them.

Benny Hunter met Alex Tekle, one of the three teenagers who took their own lives, while volunteering in the Calais “Jungle” camp. It was shut down in October 2016 and at its peak had 3,000 inhabitants.

Speaking of the impact of the teenagers’ deaths, Mr Hunter – who runs the Da’aro Youth Project – told the New Journal: “It is clear to me that they are still dealing with the shock and grief of their loss and some question how it is possible that their friends have died. I think that there is a lot that can be done to better support the mental health of this vulnerable demographic. I think that the government should be doing more to make sure that more funding is available to local authorities to provide exceptional services to asylum-seeking children in care and care leavers (including mental health services with expertise in working with this demographic).”

He also said the Home Office must reform the asylum process so vulnerable young people are not left waiting, sometimes for years, to know about their asylum claims.

Mr Hunter said: “Finally, unaccompanied minors need the right to family reunification, so that children with refugee status can bring their parents and siblings to the UK, in respect of the human right to a family life.”

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