BRITISH government officials have launched an investigation into the death of Nigerian Oscar Okwurime who died at an immigration detention centre next to Heathrow Airport where he was being held.
Mr Okwurime died at Harmondsworth on Thursday this week but the cause of his death is not yet known. Home Office officials have revealed that the police, the coroner and the prisons and probation ombudsman were investigating the matter to ascertain the cause of his death, which was sudden.
Mr Okwurime’s friends on his wing at the centre said he had received a ticket for a charter flight to Nigeria due to take off next Tuesday. Harmondsworth, together with its neighbour Colnbrook, is the biggest immigration detention centre in Europe.
One detainee said: “He was terrified when he received the ticket and was so stressed about it. Oscar was a really nice guy.”
Others added that tensions were running high at the centre and there was enormous distress about Mr Okwurime’s death and apprehension about the impending charter flight. Detainees said they were particularly fearful about the possibility of being restrained on the flight.
Yesterday, at about 10am, the detainees staged a protest over the death and passed photos of the demonstration to the media, using a bedsheet as a banner with the inscription RIP Oscar Okwurime. A third detainee, who also has a ticket for Tuesday’s flight, said the Home Office had attempted to remove him on a flight last Friday.
He added: “Everyone is scared about being restrained by the guards. Since that happened to me I’ve been having nightmares and panic attacks, particularly when I hear keys jangling.”
Emma Ginn, the coordinator of Medical Justice, a charity that campaigns for the health rights of detainees, said: “This death is a tragedy and is acutely felt by detainees left behind, locked in immigration removal centres. After a death in detention, some of our clients call us, frightened, in severe distress and inconsolable.
“The ever-rising death toll and suffering is the human consequence of the UK’s dehumanising and unjust detention system. We agree with the British Medical Association’s call to phase out immigration detention otherwise the deaths and harm will continue.”
Karen Doyle, of Movement for Justice, added: “These deaths in detention will always happen for as long as the Home Office locks up so many people who are distressed and afraid.”
James Wilson, the acting director of Detention Action, said: “We are deeply saddened to hear of yet another death in immigration detention. As we await more details on the cause of death and the results of the official investigations, we must reflect on the conditions in which this man died.
“The indefinite nature of immigration detention has an enormous impact on the mental and physical health of those detained, as do the prison-like conditions and the limited access to proper medical care and treatment.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Any death in detention is a tragic event and our thoughts and condolences are with the family and friends of Mr Okwurime. The welfare of all those in our care is of the utmost importance. All deaths in immigration detention are subject to investigation by the police, the coroner and the independent prisons and probation ombudsman.”