Devastated father speaks out about refugee, 18, who took own life over deportation worries
Eritrean-born Alex Tekle, 18, who dreamed of becoming a professional cyclist, was assaulted at a hostel for adult asylum seekers and stabbed in the street in a random attack during his short time in the UK, an inquest heard
A child refugee who was smuggled into the UK in a lorry died after struggling with alcoholism and his mental health, an inquest has heard.
Eritrean-born Alex Tekle, 18, dreamed of becoming a professional cyclist but was unable to fulfil this dream after he was assaulted at a hostel for adult asylum seekers and stabbed in the street in a random attack during his short time in the UK, an inquest heard.
Westminster Coroner’s Court heard Alex died less than a year after arriving in the UK.
The inquest heard Alex saw women and children die as they trekked across the desert from Eritrea and lived in a tent in Calais’ Jungle camp for around a year.
When the camp was cleared Alex, then 17, was rejected by the Home Office to come to the UK legally, My London reports.
He was found dead at his home in Mitcham, South London, in December 2017, less than a year after smuggling himself into the country in the back of a lorry.
In a statement, his father Tecle Sium Tesfamichel said: “He was a very loveable and sociable young man and had many friends.
“He had a brilliant sense of humour and found it easy to get on with many different people. He was an outgoing young man and made friends easily.
“Something that struck me about my son was how loving and caring he was. He was always looking after other people and this was a special quality of his.
“He had ambitions to become a professional cyclist. He practised as much as he could. He had a love of sports more generally.
“While in Sudan he learnt to drive a motorcycle and wanted to learn to drive a car.
“Although he didn’t say much about how he was feeling. I know he must have been very scared about what he saw.
“When he arrived in the UK at the end of 2016 he was so relieved. He missed his family desperately and told his sisters he hoped they would join him in the UK and go to school there. He wanted to find a job and send money to help and support us.
“When I think of Alex and the hopes for his life in the UK and know he has gone, I feel deeply sad. I didn’t know much about the problems Alex had in the UK at the time.
“He was peaceful and did not like fighting. He was a friendly and helpful person, not someone to look for a fight. He was a good person and I still don’t fully understand what happened to him in the UK.
“As a parent, you hope to never experience the loss of a child. I hoped he was safe in the UK and would build his life, go to college and get a job and one day marry and have children.
“I hope the inquest will help me understand what happened leading up to Alex’s death and if any lessons can be learnt to help protect this from happening to other young people.
“He is gone and it can never bring him back but I don’t want another young person to go through what he did.”
Benny Hunter, a British charity worker who struck up a friendship with Alex, also gave evidence to the inquest.
He said: “I met Alex in the Jungle in the camp there. I asked him if he would like any help.
“He seemed very young and very vulnerable. I very strongly remember his response was ‘people are always asking if they want to help me, but no one ever helps me’ and I felt really sad for him.
“Everything that happened to him was very traumatic and I get quite emotional when I think about it.”
He said when refugees were evicted from the camp, children were taken on buses to accommodation centres all over France and interviewed by the UK Home Office for assessment.
Alex was rejected for asylum and returned to Calais where he slept in the woods, Mr Hunter said.
The inquest heard Mr Hunter spoke to police in December 2016 and that Alex had made it across the border in the back of a refrigerated lorry.
He stayed at a children’s immigration centre in Ashford, Kent, and was under the care of social services.
There was then a dispute over Alex’s age as he initially told a social worker he was 18 in a few weeks time, but official documents stated he would not turn 18 until August.
He was moved to a hostel for adult asylum seekers in London after Kent social services said it would be “unsafe” to keep Alex in children’s accommodation, the inquest heard.
The coroner heard Alex was then assaulted at the hostel and became homeless.
The teenager developed a drinking problem and was admitted to hospital on several occasions for hypoglycaemia – a low blood sugar level – as a result of heavy drinking and not eating enough.
Alex would contact Mr Hunter drunk and crying, and on one occasion appeared to have self-harmed with a knife.
His girlfriend Luul Mohamed gave a statement to court explaining she and Alex were out with friends celebrating a birthday in July that year when Alex stopped to stroke a dog on the street.
Two males approached him and stabbed him, the court heard, and Alex had to be taken to hospital.
She said: “Alex told me he tried for around two years to come to the UK and also spoke to me about his journey here – as part of the journey some people died in front of him walking through the desert, including children and one woman who he tried to help. He said his time in the Jungle was really hard.
“Alex had an alcohol problem. When he was not drinking he was calm and quiet but when drinking he could get very angry and violent, he could get violent towards me and friends.
“Alex’s immigration status was uncertain and this caused him a lot of stress.
“I remember him saying he didn’t know why he bothered to come because he couldn’t get his papers. He thought life was better and he thought he might be able to work and help his family by sending money back.
“He said he regretted ever coming to the UK. Alex thought no one wanted to help him.”
Alex was found dead by a friend on December 6. The inquest continues.