1 suicide attempt a day in UK immigration detention centers

Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre © Oliver White / Wikipedia
Suicide attempts in Britain’s immigration detention centers have reached an all-time high, official figures show, with an average of one suicide attempt every day.

Figures released by the Home Office following a freedom of information (FoI) request show there were 393 suicide attempts over the course of 2015, a rise of 11 percent on the previous year.

There was also a 7 percent rise in the number of people detained – up to 32,466.

The center with the highest number of attempted suicides is Harmondsworth, near Heathrow, which recorded 105. Yarl’s Wood, which mainly houses female detainees, came second with 64.

The Home Office is under pressure to reduce the number of people held in detention centers, especially the vulnerable and sick, those without a criminal history, and those not considered a threat.

In March 2015, detainees at Harmondsworth mounted a protracted hunger strike, complaining of unfair treatment. One inmate told RT there had been multiple incidents of maltreatment, and that more than 70 detainees were hunger striking.

A report was published in January examining the welfare of detainees. Author Stephen Shaw, former prisons ombudsman, called for a reduction in the number of people placed in detention and said pregnant women should not be admitted at all.

Commenting on the figures released on Monday, Shaw told the Guardian that detainees suffer high levels of depression and anxiety, leading them to feel suicidal.

Levels of self-harm are critical indicators of the health of any institution and the welfare of those in detention. Many detainees are extremely vulnerable and experience high levels of anxiety and depression. If implemented, the proposals I have made to the government would improve welfare, reduce vulnerability, and ensure a more effective use of the detention estate,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the charity Medical Justice, which works to improve the health of immigration detainees, said care provided in the centers is “not adequate” to deal with mental health issues.

“We find that many detainees have serious mental health issues, having suffered torture in the home countries and then faced with the trauma of indeterminate detention. The increasing numbers of detainees who self-harm or attempt suicide is very concerning and the health care provided in immigration removal centers is not adequate to deal with the levels of mental distress,” she said.