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Open Verdict on Asylum Seeker Who Slept In a Wheelie Bin

Bob Pounder


 

Not suicide but an open verdict. This was the pronouncement according to coroner Leonard Gorodkin on the death of a failed asylum seeker, who walked in to the offices of Refugee Action in Manchester and set himself on fire. The Manchester Coroners Court heard this afternoon (21st October 2004) that a verdict of suicide could not be established beyond all reasonable doubt

 

Israfil Shiri, an Iranian national, arrived in the UK in the back of a truck in August 2001 and was finally refused asylum in November 2002. In Iran he had been a dissident member of the Basij, a volunteer army concerned with enforcing Iranís Islamic code. When the authorities obtained documented evidence of his life as a gay man he fled to avoid execution.

 

Giving evidence to the inquiry, Kamran Adib Qudis a friend and former co-resident recalled the eviction of Israfil Shiri from their New Prospect Housing address in Salford. The National Asylum Support Service (NASS) ordered this eviction following the Home Officeís rejection of appeal. Denied a home, benefits and the right to work Israfil Shiri became totally destitute. Even access to his prescribed medication was blocked. Unable to eat without bleeding and vomiting Israfil Shiri was a sick man. Kamran pleaded with officials who removed all Israfil Shirisís personal effects from the house.

 

Living a transient hand to mouth existence, from then on, he would stay with friends. On other occasions he would find shelter and sleep in wheelie bins.

 

On 23rd August 2003 at about ten past three in the afternoon, Israfil Shiri met Natalie Underwood at the offices of Refugee Action. According to Ms Underwood although discussing his medical condition and fear of deportation, he appeared calm and pleasant. He shook her hand at the end of the interview and promised to come back the following day. He returned a few minutes later doused in a flammable liquid. With two flicks from a green cigarette lighter he turned himself into a human torch. The court heard how the intensity of the flames could be felt from several feet away and how Israfil Shiri collapsed to the floor as the flames were extinguished with a carbon dioxide extinguisher. In agony yet still able to speak he screamed that he did not want to die and that he did not want to be sent back to Iran.

 

Israfil Shiri died in Manchesterís Wythenshawe hospital on 3rd September 2003. According to the doctors report he had suffered seventy eight percent body burns, the worst of these being to the chest, abdomen, and upper limbs.

 

In recording an open verdict the coroner remarked that the evidence and conclusions provided by Greater Manchester Fire Service in the actions of the deceased had been helpful. In his summation the coroner remarked: "I have heard a lot of what the deceased may have been trying to do".

 

However, he was unable to comment on Government policy but it was clear that Israfil Shiri had, had his application refused and that he was unable to find a specialist solicitor to fight the appeal. The only way not to go back to Iran was to provide a medical report saying that he was not fit but since he had no permanent accommodation he was unable to get access to a doctor. "The intentions of Israfil Shiri were an act of a desperate man who couldnít go back to Iran and was not able to stay here".

 

Closing the proceedings the coroner thanked the Committee for Asylum Seekers. Dr Rhetta Moran represented the family of Israfil Shiri at the inquest.

 

October 2004

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