Helping detainees in need of medical assistance

COMMENT: Home Office responsibility for women miscarrying in immigration detention

Tuesday, August 20th, 2019

The Home Office was recently made to accept their responsibility in the tragic miscarriage of a rape survivor. The woman was unlawfully held in immigration detention which amounted to inhumane and degrading treatment.

This case shows precisely why the Home Office must, finally, heed of our advice and that of the medical profession, and actually ban the detention of pregnant women.

Medical Justice sent volunteer midwives to visit pregnant women in immigration detention for a decade. We warned the Home Office that women and their unborn children were suffering from inadequate healthcare and that they should ban the detention of pregnant women immediately. The Home Office paid little attention. 

One of our clients had complained for three weeks about abdominal pains was sent to A & E where she miscarried with two guards in attendance. She subsequently attempted suicide and was admitted into a psychiatric ward.

In 2013 we published “Expecting Change: The case for ending the detention of pregnant women”, a dossier which called for the end of detention for pregnant women. This call was backed by the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, as well as 337 organisations. 

In 2015 Channel 4 News undercover cameras revealed the callous treatment of pregnant women in detention. In 2016 the Home Office commission Stephen Shaw, a former Prison and Probation Ombudsman to review the use of immigration detention – he too called for a ban on the detention of pregnant women.

The detention of pregnant women was curtailed to 72 hours, extendable up to a week with ministerial authorisation, following a concerted campaign by non-governmental organisations, medical professionals and parliamentarians in 2016. But as we can see from this case, this is not enough. A time limit will only go so far, which is why we must end detention for pregnant women.

When asked by the Home Office for a follow-on review in 2018, Shaw called again for a total ban on the detention of pregnant women, an option the Home Office chose again not to implement. 

Immigration detention is optional so the Home Office is responsible for any woman miscarrying in detention.  The Home Office must do the right thing, urgently, and actually ban the detention of pregnant women as they run the real risk of another miscarriage in detention, for which they will be responsible.