May launches immigration detention review

Former prisons watchdog Stephen Shaw will lead a review into detainee welfare on home secretary’s request

By Matt Foster

10 Feb 2015

Theresa May has launched a review of Britain’s immigration removal centres, after a report found a “culture of disbelief” had left vulnerable detainees without proper support.

The study, carried out for the Home Office by behavioural charity the Tavistock Group, warned that mental health awareness training among staff in removal centres was “very limited”, with some dismissing complaints and self-harm among detainees as “attention-seeking behaviour”.

Responding to the report’s findings, the home secretary announced that former prisons watchdog Stephen Shaw would lead a review into the wellbeing of detainees, including fresh inspections of detention facilities and an assessment of health provision, which now falls under the remit of the NHS.

“Immigration detention is a vital tool in helping ensure those with no right to remain in the UK are returned to their home country,” May said.

“But I take the welfare of those in the government’s care very seriously and I want to ensure the health and wellbeing of all detainees, some of whom may be vulnerable, is safeguarded at all times."

According to the Tavistock report, healthcare assessments carried out on arrival at return centres sometimes failed to take into account detainees’ previous mental health history, while health care staff reported feeling “overwhelmed and exhausted by the volume of cases and demands made on them”.

And it said the nature of the immigration return system, reliant on co-operation between agencies including the police, prisons, the NHS and local authorities, could lead to staff receiving inaccurate information on detainees’ welfare.

Among its recommendations, the report called on the Home Office to ensure staff were properly trained in assessing mental health conditions, and said the screening of new detainees should not be carried out at night after lengthy journeys, where detainees may be unable to properly convey the state of their health. 

It also urged the Home Office to improve its relationship with external organisations including campaigners and NGOs, which it warned “has all but broken down in some instances”.

According to the latest official figures, there were 3,378 people held in immigration detention in the UK at the end of September 2014.

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