9 July 2015

The Vulnerable People Working Group of the Detention Forum is publishing its report Rethinking ‘Vulnerability’ in Detention: a Crisis of Harm today.

The executive summary is here.   The full report is here.   Our press release is below.

Government’s approach to ‘vulnerability’ in detention needs urgent overhaul to prevent further harm

The Home Office’s policy and procedures to safeguard vulnerable people from immigration detention are inadequate, outdated and leave many people at risk of serious harm, according to new research published by the Detention Forum today.

The research analysed cases of 31 immigration detainees in contact with visitors groups and detention NGOs who were detained despite by definition constituting a ‘vulnerable group’. This included an overwhelming majority (77%, 24 people) who had experienced mental ill health in detention, 9 people (30%) who had experienced torture, four people with serious disabilities, a woman who had been trafficked to the UK and a boy detained aged just 15.

The research highlights a series of substantive failings in the system which led to the continued detention of these individuals despite policy guidance which is supposed to prevent the detention of vulnerable people – people like Jacques:

Jacques was detained for the purposes of removal to Denmark where he had previously claimed asylum. He had a traumatic history as a child soldier and was severely impacted by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Despite being visibly unwell, and despite anecdotal evidence of staff feeling unable to manage the situation, he was detained for over two months before being removed to Denmark.

During detention, Jacques suffered periodic blackouts and dizziness, which at least once led to injury. He was unable to communicate with staff or other detainees and exhibited erratic behaviour, at times running naked out of his room or speaking in what was understood by staff as gibberish. In response, Jacques was regularly placed in isolation, which appeared to exacerbate his confusion and paranoia.

The local visitors’ group made efforts to raise concerns with the detention centre staff, but got no response from the healthcare centre. Attempts to support Jacques were made by a fellow detainee who spoke the same language as well as a solicitor who was willing to represent him for a temporary admission application and for unlawful detention. Jacques’ paranoia made him unwilling to enter the room with the solicitor, and so it was impossible to represent him. Communication was so difficult that his fellow detainee was unable to do much to support him either.

This new report calls for a complete rethinking of ‘vulnerability’ in order to end the detention of people who are at risk of harm. It advocates for a new approach which moves away from static ‘category based’ definitions to a more dynamic approach recognising that vulnerability is the result of a variety of factors and changes over time. The report argues that vulnerable people should never be detained, pushing for the use of community based alternatives to detention. For those who are detained, a new assessment tool should be developed with experts and clinicians, to enable a more in depth screening prior to detention as well as monitoring changes over time while detained.

Ali McGinley, Director of AVID and Co-author of the report, said “we are deeply concerned about the ongoing detention of extremely vulnerable people despite various high profile cases of serious harm. Detention centres are inadequate to meet the basic needs of these individuals – people who, by the Home Office’s own guidance, shouldn’t be detained in the first place. It is time to overhaul the approach to vulnerability so that those who are vulnerable or potentially vulnerable can go through the immigration system without the use of detention”

Nic Eadie, Director of GDWG and Co-author of the report, said “The recently-released report of the Parliamentary Inquiry into the use of immigration detention in the UK highlighted the many failings in identifying victims of trafficking and torture in detention, as well as the inadequacy of the safeguarding mechanism the Home Office rely on to identify and review the detention of all vulnerable detainees. Our report echoes this and provides more detailed information on the widespread failure of the Home Office in their duty of care to those they detain. A 28 day time-limit, as recommended by the Inquiry would be a good start, but as our report states, a root and branch reform is required to ensure those most at risk of harm are never detained.”

For further information please contact:

Ali McGinley, Director, AVID on 07900 196 131/ali.mcginley@aviddetention.org.uk or

Nic Eadie, Director, GDWG on 01293 657 070 /nic@gdwg.org.uk


  1. The Detention Forum is a network of NGOs working together to challenge immigration detention. Their Vulnerable People Working Group which produced this report is co-convened by AVID (Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees) and GDWG (Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group).
  2. The executive summary of the report is available here and the full report here.
  3. On no less than six occasions in three years, the UK government has breached the rights of mentally ill detainees under Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
  4. In March 2015, the Home Secretary commissioned a review of the welfare of vulnerable detainees, to be conducted by Stephen Shaw, former Prisons and Probation Ombudsman. The terms of this review explicitly exclude the consideration of the decision to detain. As such, this review is likely to have limited impact on the most vulnerable, as it is based on the premise that initial screening and decisions to detain are appropriate, and that their welfare needs can be met in detention. Yet according to the Home Office’s own statistics, around 40% of those detained are released back into the UK community, calling into question the rationale for their detention in the first place.
  5. The recent Parliamentary Inquiry into the use of immigration detention in the UK conducted by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees and All Parliamentary Group on Migration concluded that detention is used ‘disproportionately frequently, resulting in too many instances of detention’. Their report recommends a substantive overhaul of the immigration detention system including the introduction of a time limit and the consideration of community alternatives.