The Albanian asylum seeker suspected of taking his own life on the Bibby Stockholm died without knowing that days earlier he had been granted the right to do paid work by the Home Office, the Telegraph can reveal.
Leonard Farruku, 27, came to Britain with the dream of getting a job and building a new life in the UK by securing indefinite leave to remain in the country, according to family and friends.
He had paid people smugglers €4,000 (£3,435) to get to Britain illegally on a small boat across the Channel in August 2022, one of more than 12,000 Albanians to have made the crossing in that year largely intent on working in the UK.
Although ostensibly an economic migrant, he had claimed asylum and his application was being actively considered by the Home Office at the time of his death on Dec 12 last year.
Like thousands of other migrants forced to wait for a decision for more than a year because of the asylum backlogs, Mr Farruku had applied to work in a shortage occupation, as is permitted under Home Office rules.
He was granted a permit to work in the UK for two years until December 2025 and, as revealed on Saturday by The Telegraph, could have become one of at least 16,000 asylum seekers allowed to take up jobs in shortage occupations such as care homes, construction and agriculture.
His permit was sent to his solicitors in London and received on Dec 7, five days before his death. Phone calls by the solicitors and a Whatsapp message with a copy of the permit sent by a UK-based cousin failed to get through to him. It is not known why, though friends believe he may have changed his number.
He is suspected to have taken his life onboard Bibby Stockholm in Portland port, Dorset, the following Monday after reportedly complaining about his mental health on the Sunday. Fellow migrants claim to have heard shouting and banging on the wall of his cabin that night.
Had Mr Farruku taken up the work permit, he would have been paid 80 per cent of the going rate for the job. He could have left the barge if he had been able to find private rented accommodation.
The tragedy exposes the chaos around the backlogs of asylum claims that have built up over the past decade, from just 14,000 outstanding applications in 2013 to 165,000 at their peak last year.
Housing shortages have forced the Home Office to spend £8 million a day housing the asylum seekers in hotels and has led to attempts to reduce the costs by transferring them to “cheaper” mass accommodation sites like the Bibby barge and converted former RAF bases in Essex and Lincolnshire.
The rule allowing migrants to work if they have been waiting more than a year arguably saves the Treasury money as they have to give up their £49.18 a week benefits – provided their job pays more – and pay rent and income tax, if eligible.
By some metrics, it may also help the economy by providing cheap foreign labour to plug gaps in key shortage areas like care homes, the NHS, construction and agriculture.
But MPs and migration experts are concerned that it has also created a “pull” factor that has encouraged economic migrants to come to the UK illegally in the knowledge they can work while claiming asylum.
This was the very reason why Sir Tony Blair’s Government in 2002 – facing a migration crisis on a similar scale to now – scrapped the then policy of allowing asylum seekers to work after six months on the asylum waiting list.
It is notable that just a year later Sir Tony considered a migration “nuclear option” that included offshoring asylum seekers in Africa, British territories and the Isle of Mull – a move that foreshadowed the current Government’s Rwanda policy.
However, the New Labour Government was forced to reverse its 2002 decision in 2005 by the EU under a European law that granted a right for asylum seekers to apply for permission to work after 12 months.
Lord Cameron’s coalition Government restricted it to shortage occupations in 2010 – an approach confirmed in reviews by Theresa May in 2018 and Boris Johnson in 2021.
Whether Mr Farruku was aware that he could apply for permission to work after a year is not known. But his sister Jola Dushku, 33, who lives in Lombardia in Italy, said: “He came to the UK with the dream to find better work and, most importantly, to get indefinite leave to remain in the UK.”
Friends have told The Telegraph that he spurned their advice to work in the black economy because, he told them, he was “going to do things properly”.
“To achieve indefinite leave to remain, Leonard wanted to fulfil all the Home Office requests. His sister said he’d replied, “Yes when they told him his new accommodation would be in that boat where he spent the last days of his life”.
Born in the rural north of Albania, he moved to Tirana as a teenager where he worked as a pizza delivery driver. Having lost his father and mother, he decided to come to the UK, telling relatives he wanted to open a music studio and write a book.
His solicitor and the Home Office say they cannot disclose his asylum claim due to client confidentiality. Eighty per cent of Albanian asylum claims are rejected. The remaining 15 per cent relate to women or girls who are victims of trafficking, and 5 per cent are men, largely owing to evidence of threats to life if they returned.
Police and the Home Office have been investigating his death. His family hope the inquest, this summer, will explain why he apparently took his own life just days after being allowed to work.
Marenglen Farruku, his cousin, said: “He went there for a better life. He never showed any sign of distress. There are so many unanswered questions about what has happened there.”