A teenage refugee killed himself after the serious nature of his mental illness was not recognised, a coroner has concluded.
Mulubrhane Medhane Kfleyosus, 19, was the fourth from his friendship group of Eritrean refugees to take his own life within a 16-month period after arriving in the UK.
All four had spent some of their time living in Croydon, south London. Kfleyosus was found dead on 18 February 2019 in Milton Keynes. 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.
Kfleyosus’s inquest is the third of the group of friends to conclude. A date is yet to be set for Tekle’s inquest.
The coroner Tom Osborne, sitting at Milton Keynes coroner’s court on Wednesday, said Kfleyosus was suffering from mental illness at time of his death and the seriousness was not recognised.
He said the teenager’s experience travelling from Eritrea and arriving in England by lorry had had a profound impact on his mental health.
Issues explored at the inquest included the decision to move Kfleyosus to Milton Keynes from London when he reached 18 even though professionals in London thought he was vulnerable owing to 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.
At the inquest into Ahmed Nur’s death, the coroner Mary Hassell directed the London borough of Camden – where he died – to alert other local authorities of the increased risk of suicide among young unaccompanied Eritrean asylum seekers.
A statement from another 19-year-old refugee from Eritrea, a friend of all four teenagers who died, read out at Kfleyosus’s inquest said: “I feel like I am losing everyone who is important to me. When we were travelling from Eritrea to the UK … we thought that everything would be OK once we got there.
“I am begging my social worker to move me from Croydon because I have too many memories of my friends who have died here. Every street in Croydon brings back a memory of Filmon, Alex, Osman or Mulu, and it’s too much to bear.”
Benny Hunter, a project coordinator at the Da’aro Youth Project for young asylum seekers and refugees primarily from the Horn of Africa, said: “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.”
Helen Johnson, the head of children’s services at the Refugee Council, said: “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.
“It is really important that everyone involved in the care of young refugees is fully equipped to recognise 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.”