Helping detainees in need of medical assistance


Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019



This project seeks to highlight the failure to protect individuals from the harm of immigration detention.



Medical Justice believes that immigration detention, and the conditions of immigration detention, are so detrimental to the health and wellbeing of detainees that the only way to protect people from the harm of immigration detention is to bring an end to immigration detention. Until this can be achieved, current policies must be significantly reformed to ensure that the harm caused by these institutions is minimised.


We hope that helping others understand what goes on inside places of immigration detention can help us change policies and improve the situation for detainees across the UK. The FAILURE TO PROTECT project is one attempt to bring the unheard stories of people who have been put at risk by the failure of Home Office policies to protect them from suffering harm in detention to a wider audience and put a human face to the suffering caused.

Consecutive government policies claiming to protect vulnerable people from the harmful impact of detention have failed to achieve their stated purpose and many continue to suffer avoidable harm in immigration detention. This report tells the story of some of those whom the policies failed.

Close to 25,000 people are held in immigration detention annually in the UK. Many will have past histories of trauma, be it from their country of origin or trauma suffered during their journey to the UK. Additionally, some experience destitution and exploitation whilst in the UK due to immigration control.

Comprehensive academic research has demonstrated that immigration detention in and of itself is harmful to the mental health of detainees and that those with previous trauma or mental health issues are at particular risk of harm. Repeated government-commissioned reviews have found that the safeguards in place to ensure that vulnerable people do not end up in detention often fail. And, that when vulnerable people do get detained, the safeguards in place to identify them and trigger a review of their detention, simply aren’t working as intended.

A multitude of reports has documented the negative impact of detention not just on those directly affected by it, but also on their families. Those released from detention often continue to suffer the effects of detention for some time. Official inspectorates consistently issue reports documenting the shortcomings in the operation of the centres themselves.

The Home Office has asserted that successive policies protect vulnerable detainees. Despite this, vulnerable people continue to be detained and suffer harm in detention. Since 2005 Medical Justice has been working to highlight these injustices in immigration detention, and to work towards an end to this harmful regime.

Whilst detention continues, Medical Justice works to improve the safeguards in place for people in detention. We have won some significant victories in this battle but vulnerable detainees continue to fall through the cracks.

The Home Office commissioned Stephen Shaw, a former Prison and Probation Ombudsman, to review the use of immigration detention in 2016. Following the highly critical Shaw review, which found that detention was being used too frequently, that too many people were ending up in detention and that safeguards were inadequate, we were hopeful that there may be significant reform addressing the systemic issues.

However, the government’s response – the so-called Adults at Risk policy – has not achieved this aim and is not fit for purpose.

What follows in this report is an outline of how the system fails individuals caught up in it, how people known to be at increased risk of harm in detention continue to be detained in what is widely accepted to be a harmful environment. Also, the safeguards fail to identify the predictable deterioration of vulnerable detainees until serious harm has been inflicted; harm which may take years to recover from, if at all. This continues whilst ministers and civil servants loudly repeat their commitment to not detaining vulnerable people and despite all the evidence available of the harm detention inflicts.

This harmful system cannot be allowed to continue. Until there is an end to immigration detention, safeguards are, at the very least, needed which are properly protective, inclusive and effective.

The kinds of stories featured here should never happen.

All of the people featured in this report are clients of Medical Justice. All names have been changed, as well as some details, to protect their identities.






Individual casestudies