Health problems

Information last updated on December 11, 2018

“Their interest in removing you will always outweigh your vulnerability, there is no contest there. I saw loads of vulnerable people inside Morton Hall. Lots of psychotic episodes, people self-harming because they were so depressed. I saw someone cut their throat in front of me.” – John P, Freed Voices


Indefinite immigration detention creates and exacerbates serious vulnerabilities. Many people in detention are survivors of torture or other forms of extreme violence. Some have chronic physical or mental health problems that cannot be managed in detention. Others without pre-existing conditions develop serious problems by virtue of their experience in detention.

There are certain criteria that are supposed to prevent people from being held in immigration detention, which are largely concerned with vulnerable adults and the welfare of children. It is illegal to detain somebody if that decision results in a child being taken in to care, and the Adults at Risk (AAR) policy is designed to identify people who would be particularly vulnerable to harm in detention. The AAR policy covers vulnerabilities such as disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or being a survivor of human trafficking or modern slavery, and weighs these vulnerabilities against ‘immigration factors’ (how likely the person is to be removed from the UK). Rule 35 of the Detention Centre Rules 2001  is the mechanism by which Home Office caseworkers should identify people ‘whose health is likely to be injuriously affected by continued detention or any conditions of detention’.

These safeguards are demonstrably not working. We regularly still see survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking being detained. People who have experienced detention talk of the impact on their mental health for years after their release.

“Indefinite detention is a mental torture. After a while your brain begins to melt. I saw people forget how to spell their names in there.”
– Kasonga, Freed Voices

Access to healthcare

We regularly hear from people in detention that their healthcare needs are not being adequately met. Healthcare provision is provided but people often struggle to be seen by a doctor or to receive proper care. For many people, being detained without notice means that they are unable to make arrangements for any medication they are taking. For others, detention is the cause of their ill health, whether that be through depression, anxiety or another mental or physical manifestation.

Self harm

There is a crisis of self-harm in UK immigration detention centres. There is more than one incident of self harm every day and eleven deaths were recorded in 2017.

Being detained without being given a release date puts people in detention under a huge amount of anxiety. They go from day to day not knowing if they will be removed from the UK, transferred to another detention centre, or released back in to the community. The lack of control over their own lives and the oppressive and violent atmosphere can lead to an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and despair. Many people in detention suffer from PTSD and experience flashbacks to past experiences.

“I started to get more and more anxious. I couldn’t sleep. I felt like I was in custody for no crime. I felt caged. I found all the shouting, the screaming, very difficult. Flashbacks to my past started to come back to me – the earthquake went off in my head. And I still feel the aftershocks today.”
– Ajay, Freed Voices

“Detention centres are built on uncertainty and fear but the indefinite nature of the experience turns them into depression cookers, anxiety machines.”
– William, Freed Voices

“Death is everywhere in detention. People are trying to kill themselves every day. People are expecting to be killed if they are returned to their countries. People feel like they are dying from suffocation, all locked up. You look at some people and they are already dead – they are ghosts. Death is not a strange thing in detention. It has become normalised. It is part of the DNA.”
– Kasonga, Freed Voices

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