Detained Nigerian girl found trying to strangle herself

London: A 10-year-old Nigerian girl placed in immigration detention for a second time – despite warnings from experts that she might try to kill herself if she was incarcerated again – has been found trying to strangle herself. Adeoti Ogunsola was spotted by guards at Tinsley House immigration removal centre (IRC) near Gatwick airport early on Sunday in the kitchen of the family quarters. The 

family’s asylum claim has been refused and they are facing removal to Nigeria on Thursday.

Adeoti told the guards she would rather die in England than in Nigeria, where she believes her life will be at risk if she is returned. Her mother, Clementina Ogunsola, 35, whom she was sharing a room with, was asleep at the time. Mother and daughter were taken to hospital and later returned to Tinsley House.

“Adeoti is in a very bad state,” said Clementina. “It’s terrible to see her like this. She’s crying a lot and has completely broken down.”

The case comes at a time when there is mounting opposition to the government’s policy of detaining child asylum seekers.

The Ogunsolas were detained in Yarl’s Wood IRC in June and were later released. A report from a psychotherapist warned that Adeoti was suffering from complex post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of being detained and warned that if she was detained again her condition was so severe that she might attempt to kill herself.

Clementina was detained again in August but refused to reveal the whereabouts of Adeoti to prevent her being redetained. It later emerged that she was in the care of an aunt and for a while social services and the UK Border Agency (UKBA) allowed this arrangement to stand.

However, early last Thursday UKBA officials raided the aunt’s home and dragged out a screaming Adeoti. Social services were present but Adeoti’s aunt was not allowed to accompany her. A distressed Adeoti was reunited with her mother in Tinsley House and tried to kill herself three days later.

In a letter to the family’s solicitors, UKBA officials said the circumstances were exceptional. The letter is dated 17 October and was sent hours before Adeoti made the suicide attempt. It quotes Dr Geraint Thomas, who acknowledged Adeoti’s distress.

“Whilst aware of the potential for suicidal feelings that she may act upon we are maintaining close observations of her and believe we are able to safely maintain her within this environment,” Thomas states in the UKBA letter.

Adeoti is a pupil at St Mary’s Catholic primary school in Gillingham, Kent. The headteacher, Bernadette Long, is supporting the family’s fight to remain in the UK.

She said Adeoti was “clearly traumatised” by her detention in June. “She was inconsolable about the thought of deportation in September 2008 when she first heard of it,” said Long. “Since then Adeoti has had unsettled periods due to the worry and uncertainty. This has gone on for a whole year now and is an unnecessary act of mental cruelty which is affecting her emotional and mental wellbeing.”

There have been many campaigns to end the detention of children in the UK, which currently occurs at a rate of 2,000 a year. Labour MP Chris Mullin is sponsoring an early day motion urging the government to adopt more humane arrangements for monitoring children whom UKBA wishes to remove from the country.

David Wood, strategic director of UKBA’s criminality and detention group, said: “Treating children with care and compassion is a priority for the UK Border Agency.

“Whenever we take decisions involving children, their welfare comes first. That’s why we have transformed our children’s policy, ensuring in law a commitment to protect youngsters and keep them safe from harm. Their welfare is regularly monitored and medical staff are on site and their detention is reviewed.

“When the independent courts find a family has no need for protection we expect them to return home. If they refuse to leave voluntarily we have no choice but to enforce their removal, and this can include detaining children, but only as a very last resort.”

Frank Arnold, clinical director of the Medical Justice Network, said: “The evidence is that this girl was redetained by UKBA against expert advice and retraumatised, causing severe harm. Our independent doctors have seen more than 20 children whose purely administrative detention has damaged them beyond any reasonable justification. The abusive jailing of innocent children should cease.”

Clementina and Adeoti fear that if they return to Nigeria their lives will be at risk from a cult which allegedly killed two of Clementina’s brothers. They are also concerned that Adeoti will be at risk of female genital mutilation from family members, which Clementina was forced to undergo.

The family’s lawyers are seeking a stay of the removal.