Helping detainees in need of medical assistance

Impact of Detention on Health

At any time about 2,000-3,000 people are held in administrative detention in the UK – about 30,000 a year. People held in indefinite detention in immigration removal centres are among the most vulnerable people in our society. Many detainees have suffered torture or ill treatment, have significant and chronic health problems, or have been detained for prolonged periods of time without any prospect of removal. Furthermore, they are powerless and may fear that if they make a complaint there will be repercussions.

Immigration detainees are not prisoners and are not detained because they have been accused of any criminal offence.

Detention itself damages health and brings mental ill-health, which gets worse the longer a detainee is held. Immigration detainees are vulnerable, with many having suffered abuse/torture, but there is no formal assessment of this before detention. The effect detention has on health and well-being is an important factor to be taken into account when detention is reviewed, yet there is no effective process for collecting and passing on that information.

There are a lack of safeguards for the vulnerable (see Rule 35 here).  Detention is indefinite, without time limit: it may be years (unlike the rest of Europe). The uncertainty of how long you may be detained is especially harmful. Immigration detainees are often vulnerable and some lack the mental capacity for the decisions being expected of them. Many are expected to do this without any legal representation, advocate or litigation friend, and in a language that is foreign to them.

In January 2016 the Home Office published ‘Review into the Welfare in Detention of Vulnerable Persons’, a report to the Home Office by Stephen Shaw (Shaw Report, see here). This report found that processes to protect vulnerable people were ineffective and urged the Government to reduce the number of people detained and look at alternatives to detention.


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"To feel completely alone and scared is a normal feeling when you are inside. And to be locked away, even for couple of weeks, can be very detrimental in the wellness, specially for the mental health. People will never understand what is to be locked and detained until you actually experience it. But over the past 8 months, since I first made contact with Medical Justice, I have seen them to support and help so many, so many detainees."

(Ms MG – ex-detainee)