BMA: Immigration centres cannot meet needs of asylum seekers

Those who have not been convicted of a crime should only be detained as a “last resort,” measure a new report has argued.

The BMA’s report on health and human rights in immigration detention, ‘Locked up, locked out,’ which was published yesterday outlines how current detention practices can be “detrimental to the health of migrants and asylum-seekers.”

The report has come from the BMA’s medical ethics committee, and is part of the association’s aim to reduce health inequalities and defend human rights.

It claims that the lack of clear time-limits on the length of a person’s detention can compromise access to services, with a “deep frustration” felt by doctors, immigration centre staff, and detainees alike.

The paper calls staffing levels, availability of on-site services and referrals to specialists variable and “often inadequate.”

Additionally, it has highlighted concerns about those with mental health needs, arguing that the immigration centre environment can “worsen or contribute to mental illness,” with manor detainees being “highly vulnerable,” with some having suffered torture in the past.

Dr. Alan Mitchell, former chair of the BMA’s civil and public services committee (CSPC) works as a GP in an immigration removal centre, and contributed to the report.

He described the case of a vulnerable young man who came to the UK as an asylum seeker who had been sexually abused, and was in an immigration detention centre.

After reporting to the Home Office he was released, but his status was that of a failed asylum seeker, which meant that he was unable to access the community mental health services which he needed, which Mitchell said “definitely contributed to him falling into a downward spiral.”

The UK has one of Europe’s largest immigration detention estates, with 11 immigration removal centres across the country which hold up to 3,500 people at any one time, and it is one of the few European countries with no time-limits on detention.

The report has made a series of recommendations.

It has recommended that detention policies and the detention environment be revised to address the “significant” impact indeterminate detention can have on an individual’s health.

The BMA has advised that current healthcare provision should be reconfigured so that equivalence of care can be achieved, and that those working with detainees should receive training and support in health and wellbeing issues.

Dr. John Chisholm, chair of the BMA medical ethics committee, said that healthcare is “fundamental” to meeting the obligations to detainees.

He continued: “Migrants and asylum-seekers shouldn’t have their health-related human rights infringed and must be able to access healthcare adequate for their needs.

“The BMA hopes to work with policy-makers and other organisations to restructure and develop policies that meet the health needs of people in detention and ensure doctors can meet their ethical and professional obligations.

“A fundamental rethink of current policies is required.”

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