The Boy Who Fell: How The Tragic Death of a Child Refugee Underscores a National Crisis

Photo by Hans Eiskonen on Unsplash.

On Wednesday 18th August, Mohammed Munib Majeedi, a five-year-old Afghan refugee, fell from a hotel window in Sheffield. A tragic accident at first glance. But upon further inspection, this boy’s unfortunate passing sheds light on the failure of a neglected system.

MP for Sheffield Heeley and Labour shadow frontbencher Louise Haigh revealed that refugees were removed from the same hotel by the Home Office in August 2020 “following concerns about the suitability of that accommodation”. The OYO Metropolitan Hotel, where the boy and his family were housed, was deemed unfit for use a year ago and usage by the Home Office ceased.

So, why were refugees who arrived from Afghanistan this year housed in a hotel which was recently determined unsafe by the Home Office?

Two days after the death of the five-year-old, a Home Office source confirmed to The Guardian that the building was deemed unfit for use as it did not meet fire safety requirements, but added: “the hotel has been contracted again with additional fire safety mitigations in place.”

Whilst they may have since met those fire safety requirements, those were not the only safety concerns attributed to the Sheffield hotel. A now-deleted Facebook review of the hotel by a former guest, Ashi Khan, in 2019 exposes the safety failures that made possible the boy’s fatal nine-story fall. Alongside a photograph of the widely-opened window, Khan wrote “I could not open the window as it opened so wide I was scared my children would fall out”. Residents living nearby the hotel have confirmed that after the fall that no safety bars or restricted openings had been installed on the windows. The notion of safety concerns by building inhabitants falling on deaf ears, only to be later exposed as major factors in fatal incidents, is not a new one.

Few can forget when in 2017, London’s 24-floor Grenfell Tower went up in flames, claiming the lives of 72 inhabitants. But how does it relate to the tragic accidental death of a child refugee in Sheffield four years later?

Just recently, the exposing documentary “Grenfell: The Untold Story”  aired on Channel 4, showing years of piling safety concerns by the residents being neglected by their building association and local officials. One example highlighted were the complaints of an apartment door that wouldn’t shut which later left the room unable to contain the spread of the fire, as it was designed to. Another complaint was that of thin, combustible paste being used to fill the gaps in windows. This paste later played an instrumental part in the spread of the fire from the exterior cladding into the rooms inside.

One lesson that should have been learned from Grenfell is that the concerns of residents need to be recognised, not silenced through bureaucratic delay and corporate negligence. Despite this, the similarities between the death of five-year-old Mohammed Munib Majeedi in Sheffield and the Grenfell Tower disaster are disconcertingly clear. Once again, the failure of the top-level stakeholders to recognise building safety concerns had led to a tragic loss of life.

The official in charge of the resettlement scheme has said her team “will feel guilt and responsibility for this tragic death forever". This team was appointed by the Home Office, which has a duty of care for all resettled under the programme. How could the Home Office display such disregard to the refugees from Afghanistan as to not perform a single safety check on the hotel they were placed in? In this post-Grenfell political climate, why were safety concerns from building inhabitants once again ignored until the moment of catastrophe?

It is truly a shame when the lives of children and refugees are lost at the hands of a system that neglects its most vulnerable, and corporations that neglect the safety of their customers. The United Kingdom was supposed to be an escape for the family of Mohammed Majeedi from a hostile and oppressive regime. Now, the family mourns his loss, one tragic and unimaginable, but one also frustratingly avoidable.

It leaves one wondering, where is the Home Secretary in the aftermath of this catastrophe? Is there a reason that Priti Patel has not acknowledged the death of Mohammed Majeedi, nor even offered condolences to his family? Surely the Home Secretary should recognise and share the same feeling of “guilt and responsibility” as the team in charge of the resettlement scheme, considering her office has a duty of care over everybody resettled under the program?

There is a crisis in the United Kingdom, one of bureaucratic failure and corporate negligence. It is a crisis that has continually proven deadly for the country’s most vulnerable and underrepresented people and will continue to do so until the day that real meaningful change is seen on a local and national level.

There is a crowdfunding site set up for the family of Mohammed Majeedi, please consider donating to it here.